My eyes burned as they opened to the bright light that was shining through my bedroom curtains. Only seconds ago, that exact same light had roused me from my sleep. Blinking furiously, I searched for my bedsheets, which had somehow become twisted in the night. My hand closed around them almost immediately, and I tugged them up over my head, attempting to regain the comfort I had lost. Why did this have to happen now? I was having a good dream!
What is the time anyway? The sun usually only managed to appear at around eight o’clock, and from the way my body was feeling, tired and weak, I could tell that it was not eight o’clock. Groaning at my stupid curiosity, I pushed the sheet down, contemplating what the source of light could have been. More than likely, it wasn’t anybody from the settlement. Most people refused to go outside at night unless necessary, and from what I had heard, there wasn’t much of a reason to leave your house as it is.
It got extremely cold at night, no matter what time of the year it was, and I had heard that death soon come to anyone that ventured outdoors without the necessary equipment. Not owning any of that said equipment myself, I always remained inside. Why die when you don’t need to?
The last time I could remember someone other than my father being out this late at night, wandering, was around ten years ago, and I only had brief memories of the reasons. All I could remember was that a girl had gone missing when I was seven, and she was never heard from again. No one even knew if she was taken or if she had just wandered off alone. Yet, it was hard to imagine a purpose anyone would have for taking her.
I was almost certain that that wasn’t the case now. That light had been different. I didn’t even know if it was real or just in my head.
Once again groaning, I pushed the sheets down and slowly rose from my bed, attempting to be as quiet as possible. If I could, I wanted to avoid waking my parents. Unfortunately, with a wooden home, the floors creaked with every step I took.
When I finally reached the front entrance, the silence of the night once again returned. Sighing in relief, I reached for the doorknob, turned it quietly, and inched it open slowly. A loud squeak erupted into the night, breaking the silence that had only briefly returned. I flinched as I continued to force the heavy piece of wood away from the doorframe.
Suddenly, I began to shiver as the cold air rolled over me. It was almost instantaneous with the crack appearing in the doorway. Holy shit. I could see why people didn’t go outside at night unless they needed to. It was like stepping back into the ice age. Not that I knew how that felt of course.
Trying to bear with it for a moment longer, I poked my head outside and looked around for the source of the light. There was no one within my range of vision, and apart from a few trees and the home of our neighbours, nothing else was visible in the dark of the night.
As quickly and quietly as possible, I pulled the door shut and rushed back to my bed, shivering. I couldn’t feel my hands, and my face had gone completely numb as well.
Desperately clawing at my sheets, I buried myself into the warmest crevices of my matress. It took me the next twenty minutes to heat up, before I drifted off into an uncomfortable, troubled sleep, forgetting all about the light that had shone in my face only minutes earlier.
Looking at the beautiful sunrise, I breathed in the fresh morning air. The sky was illuminated a bright orange, reflecting the sun. It was a sight I had witnessed many times before in my entire seventeen years of life, and I knew that it was one I would never get sick of. How could anyone become bored with something so incredible?
Sighing, I looked at the ground below me. It was a majestic green, covered in a thick layer of grass. Next to it was an incredible garden, filled with plants of all different sizes and colours.
Then, as it had all my life, the ground just ended, and it was a terrifying drop to the clouds and whatever it was that lay below them.
It was strange to think that the human race had once lived so far down. Let alone on the very same piece of land I was standing on. How had they managed to survive back then? Everything seemed so simple in our time. I couldn’t help but question it. Sadly, these thoughts often lead to stress in my case, as I found it difficult to comprehend how our world had been only years earlier. Particularly when it came to the idea of vehicles. How did they work? Who came up with the idea for them in the first place? Why didn’t they just walk like we do now? It was all so confusing to fathom.
At school, my teachers were attempting to help me grasp the concept of it all, but even they were having difficulty helping me understand.
Drowsily, I turned back towards the path I had walked down, and saw my friend strolling towards me. She was slightly shorter than I was, and had dark black hair. A trait she obviously inherited from her Japanese mother. At the same time, her eyes were blue and she had a kind smile. I waved as I began to make my way towards her. She was Kazuko Nakagawa, and I had met her back in preschool when we were paired up to do a task together. Ever since then we had hung out at least once every day. For some reason, we just seemed to click.
‘What’s up Bailey?’ she asked me cheerily as she approached.
‘Nothing much. Just thinking again. Didn’t get much sleep last night.’
‘Why are you thinking so early in the morning?’ she asked feigning surprise. ‘And why couldn’t you sleep? You always sleep!’
‘I don’t know, there was something in the window. It woke me up.’
‘What was it?’ she asked, filled with curiosity.
‘Honestly, I don’t know. I even went outside to check, but-‘ I was cut off by Kazuko, who glared at me angrily.
‘What the hell? You went outside? You idiot!’
I felt my stomach tighten and looked down, guiltily, ‘I wanted to know what it was…’
‘You could have died!’
‘It was only for a second…’ I trailed off.
She sighed in front of me before turning around and walking off, ‘Come on, we’re gonna be late if you don’t speed it up. It’s already eight thirty.’
‘Oh crap…’ I mumbled as I jogged after her. Being late was not a good idea.
It was about two o’clock when the teacher began talking in our history class. Like usual, Mr Brookes started out with a recap of the previous lesson before moving onto the new stuff. Not that it was completely new. We had heard about it all at some stage of our lives. The only difference was that we hadn’t been given some details due to our age.
Now that we were close to becoming adults, they were teaching us all kinds of things about the world that had once been. In my opinion, the most interesting topic that we had learnt about so far was the wars that took place in the past. Conflict was very rare in our time, which only increased our interest in it.
In particular, I had a wide interest in World War II. I couldn’t really explain why, but there was just so much going on that it seemed more interesting for me. World War I really only had basic warfare at the time, so that didn’t have as much appeal. And the third World War was something I had learnt about all my life, so there wasn’t really much left that I didn’t know.
World War III had broken out in the year 2039, just over a hundred years after the beginning of the second. It was a defining moment for the old world, as nuclear weapons had finally been put to the test. The casualties had ranged from one to three billion people, before the war finally concluded in 2046. After that, just about every acre of land above Antartica had been plagued with chaos.
Thankfully, the technology of that time had been enough to prevent the loss of countless more lives.
I had once asked a teacher what this technology was, but even they didn’t know. It was something that the world’s governments had all began developing in secret. ‘The next step in warfare,’ as it had been advertised.
They had been set to reveal it to the world. But, just under a year later, that was when the old world truly came to an end.
Scientist had always wondered what could happen if the universe stopped expanding. They had made predictions. Come up with theories. Yet, nothing could prepare them for the truth.
The most common theory had been that, when the universe’s expansion halted, it would begin to shrink back into itself, causing an event that would be called ‘The Big Crunch.’
I didn’t really have a lot of knowledge on the topic in general, but I understood enough to know that we’d all be dead, and that wasn’t exactly something I was too keen on. Who would be?
After The Big Crunch occurred, the universe would shift back into its original form and begin again, starting with ‘The Big Bang.’
Ultimately, this, along with many other theories, didn’t occur. Instead, a shockwave, unlike anything that anyone could ever imagine, swept through the universe and changed everything. It was like the universe had hit a brick wall, and could not go any further. But…it desired to.
It tore apart the universe. It tore apart the concept of gravity. And it tore apart just about every other thing to do with science that had been discovered in the last three hundred or so years.
Even today, a few remaining scientists who work tirelessly to figure it out have no clue as to what was going on. The incident occurred around fifty years ago, and people were beginning to wonder if the research was even worth continuing. We’d surived that long without knowing, so what could be the harm in stopping?
‘Bailey Green,’ my teacher called from the front of the class, ‘it’s your turn to read!’
‘Stop getting distracted in my class, it’s insulting. Next time you can have a detention.’
I flinched at the word. Detention these days was not something that people wished to be in. It was neither cool, nor funny. Just torturous.
I looked down at my page and began reading. The piece was about the creation of vaccinations and how they helped influence the old society. Thrilling…
‘Bailey, that’s the wrong page…’ Kazuko hissed from beside me.
A few people laughed in the class, and I felt my cheeks go red. ‘Oh..right!’
‘Read the one about the internet!’
I nodded, embarrassed, and began flicking through the pages, hoping that I accidentally stumbled across what I needed. Luckily, it was near the end of the booklet. Not much left…
Reading, I began to wonder what it would be like if we still had the internet. Life definitely would be easier. It was like people had had whatever they wanted right at their fingertips.
It was times like those where I found myself envying the people who grew up in the old world. Why couldn’t I have been born back then?
When the light shone through my window for the second night in a row, I knew that I wasn’t imagining things. It bore into my eyes, burning them in their sockets, and seemed to remain in place for only a flittering second.
This time, desperate to discover the source of the light, I had been ready. Before bed, after my three and a half hours of studying, I had placed a jacket with shoes on my desk in preparation for its second appearance. I knew that the chances of the light returning were slim, but I wanted to be able to chase it if I needed to.
And, sure enough, there it was, landing directly on me once again.
Quicker than I had moved since preschool, I shot to my feet and slipped into the shoes. As I jogged towards the door, no longer caring about the noise that was trumpeting through the house, I pulled on the jacket, zipping it up as I came to a stop.
Without hesitation, I reached for the door handle and twisted it. When I pulled it open I was with the familiar chill of the night, and stepped out. My hands instantly became numb.
One thing was certain: the clothing I was wearing was definitely not what I needed to be out there. After just a few seconds of enduring the cold, I knew I wouldn’t have long outside. I attempted to slide my hands up inside my slightly warmer jacket and took a few steps towards my window, seeing if the source of the light was still there.
As I had expected, it wasn’t.
Instead, there was something much more horrifying.
On the ground, as if it was warning me to get back inside, a pool of blood was spreading, staining the thick grass that was growing there. I hadn’t seen a lot of blood in my life, especially not at that point, but with the way it glistened in the moonlight, it identity was obvious.
Within that moment, my heartbeat began to race. Was someone hurt? I opened my mouth to shout, but no words left my throat. Whether I could not bring myself to say them, or it was just too cold, I can’t remember.
Instead I retreated back into the house, panicking more than I ever had in my entire life. Who had been bleeding outside my window? Did they need help?
My first thought was to tell my parents. They would know what to do. My father was highly respected within the settlement. Everyone seemed to look up to him in one way or another.
On the other hand, my mother was someone that people often disagreed with. She had very specific points, and made an effort for them to be heard. Majority of the time, I was always on her side.
It was only when I was half way to their room that I began to hesitate. Maybe telling them I had gone outside wasn’t such a good idea. Like everyone else, they too believed that we should stay indoors at night. I didn’t want to disappoint them.
Shakily, I turned and headed back to my room. I was probably just overthinking it all. There was no need to worry. I breathed in and out deeply, attempting to do something that I think was called meditating. I had learnt about it in school and it had sounded interesting at the time, so I thought I would give it a shot.
After five minutes, to my surprise, I seemed to have calmed down.
Slipping off my shoes, and unzipping my jacket, I laid back on my bed, trying to think happy thoughts.
Unfortunately, knowing that there was a large pool of blood outside my window made it extremely difficult.
For once, I did not get back to sleep.
My thoughts that had seemed to flow continuously over the course of the night were broken when warm sunlight washed over me. I rolled over stiffly, feeling my arms and legs crack with the slight movement.
By far, that night was one of the worst I had ever experienced. I definitely did not feel like going to school. Maybe Mum will let me have the day off…
Slipping off the jacket that I didn’t realise I was still wearing, I strolled out into the kitchen, wondering if there was a chance mum would be in a cheerful mood.
‘Morning,’ I called happily as I walked towards the table.
When there was no response, I stopped in my tracks. Something was wrong.
My father’s eyes were downcast, and his head was bowed over. An unusually depressing appearance for him in particular.
While mum did not look as broken, she too had a somber look on her face.
Yeah…something was definitely wrong.
‘W-What’s happening?’ I asked, my voice shaking. Could this have something to do with the blood?
‘You remember Mrs Park, don’t you?’ my mother began.
I hesitated for a moment, searching my memory. ‘Yeah, she was my third grade teacher, right?’
‘She was killed late last night.’ She did not hesitate as she spoke.
I felt my body begin to shake as I heard what she was saying. Killed? What the hell? How could this happen? ‘Who…’ I began.
Sensing my distress at the situation, my father chimed in, ‘No one knows Bailey. People have been spotting blood all over the settlement this morning. It lead back to her house…’
I felt tears well up in my eyes. This sort of thing did not happen in our time. We were past all that. Why would anyone want to ruin the peace we had? Breathing heavily, I reached for a chair at the dining table and pulled my body towards it.
Sitting down heavily, I began to think about the situation. After a few moments of silence, with my parents staring at me intently, I remembered that she had a son. His name was Michael and he was in my class. ‘What about Michael?’ I asked desperately.
Once again, my father’s eyes turned down.
My mother spoke first, knowing that it would be unfair to let my dad explain everything. ‘The night before that, Michael went missing…’
‘What?’ I choked. No? He was at school. Desperately, I tried to recall my memories of the previous day. The morning. The breaks. The lessons. None of them seemed to contain him. How?
‘At first-’ my mother seemed hesitant to continue.
‘At first what?’ I asked, needing to know more.
‘W-We thought he might have just wandered off. Was he having any difficulty at school? Anyone making trouble for him?’ Her tone changed extremely quickly. One moment she seemed to be explaining what had happened, then the next second it seemed as though she was trying to make an inquiry.
I just shook my head in response, before blurting out, ‘So he was taken?’
‘That is what we believe, Bailey,’ my father said, choosing his words carefully.
I still couldn’t believe what was happening. I needed to get out of the room. I was suffocating.
Quickly, I pushed the chair I was sitting on away from the table, and ran from the room. I needed to see Kazuko.
Hurriedly, I dressed in my school uniform, before running out of the front door to our usual meeting spot. On the way past the house, my eyes drifted to the area under my window. As I had expected, the grass in that section only had been cut and there was no trace of blood left.
They would want to avoid panic. If any blood were seen on the streets, it would surely cause several outbursts within the community. Everyone would want answers. And no one would have them.
Chances were that I would be among the them.
It took around five minutes for me to reach the place where I would so often watch the sunrise. As I had expected, Kazuko was already there, waiting for me calmly by a tree. Approaching, I knew that she was unaware of my presence. Her eyes were focused on the barrier that was in front of her, blocking us from the end of the path.
My eyes searched the ground and I found many patches of grass that had all been trimmed. It was the same as it had been by my window. All evidence that something had once been there other than grass was gone.
Breathing deeply, I called out her name, ‘Kazuko!’
She jumped at the sudden noise in the silence, and looked around for me.
‘Over here, idiot…’ I said, as cheerily as possible.
‘Shut up Bailey,’ she said, laughing. Then, as if overcome by a sudden wave of anger, she looked back at the blocked off path, ‘What the hell is going on?’
It didn’t occur to me that some parents might not tell their kids what had happened the night before. It seemed only natural to tell them. Like, why wouldn’t you? They’re a part of the community too! But I shrugged it off. My parent’s had always been different in that sense.
Should I answer her question though? Kazuko and I never kept secrets from one another, so it seemed only fair for me to tell her. But how would she react? Would she be like me? Confused for a few minutes, but then accepting? Or would she be one of the ones to panic? To need help?
Praying to one of the many Gods I had learned about in my past education, I opened my mouth and began to speak, hoping that she could remain calm. ‘L-Last night, Mrs Park,’ I paused, taking a deep breath, ‘was murdered.’
I was struggling to get the words out. It was like I couldn’t deliver bad news. I could see why my parents had so much difficulty telling me.
Her reaction to the news was just about what I had expected from her. Looking at her face, I could see her mouth open. Her eyes were wide with shock, brimming with tears. ‘Are you being serious?’
I sucked a deep breath through my nose. ‘Yes.’
‘Poor Michael…’ she began.
I felt the oxygen I had been about to exhale catch in my throat at the mention of the name. That was the part I had been dreading the most. How could I even begin?
‘Have you heard from him?’ she asked, hopeful.
‘No Kazuko, no I haven’t…’ I was shaking. Do I have to do this? ‘No one has heard from him…’
‘What? Why?’ her face had once again become curious.
‘He, uh, h-he went missing the night before.’ I looked away from her, ‘That’s why he wasn’t at school yesterday.’
With that, she broke down and fell onto me. Attempting to be comforting, I wrapped my arms around her, and placed my hand gently on the back of her head.
She began to sob, and I cried with her.
Through the tears, I looked out at the sunrise, which seemed so out of place. How could it be so cruel? It was like their deaths didn’t even matter to the rest of the universe. They were nothing.
I turned my attention away from it, and looked at the now patchy grass at my feet. No, the deaths did matter. The way they had attempted to cover up the murder proved that.
But to the sun, they were nothing. And I was okay with that.
‘Come on,’ I said, sniffing deeply, ‘let’s head to class.’
Kazuko nodded, and with that, we walked holding hands towards class, knowing that soon we would have to hear the horrible news once again.