The Aftermath-Ten Years Later
Through the windows of our SUV, I could see their faces staring at me, pleading for me to free them. I had exactly ten seconds to save them….9…8. The department store door jammed, forcing me to scan the rubble for the familiar metal pole. Success. I grabbed the pole from the severed hand’s grasp releasing each finger from their death grip around it. Time was running out…7…6…5.
Giving up on prying the door open, I threw my body against it, shattering it into a thousand pieces. The clock ticked away…4…3…2…I took off running towards them. I was going to make it this time. Finally, I was going to be able to save them. But, as this scenario always unfolded, when the final second ticked away a dark figure appeared in front of me. It threw its arms up into the air summoning an enormous explosion, throwing me back into the store. My family was gone.
I shot up in bed, a cold sweat trickling down my face. Ten years had gone by and still the vivid nightmares of that horrible day continued to plague me unrelentingly. Sitting up, I allowed my eyes to adjust to the darkness. My heart was pounding hard within my chest making breathing difficult. Taking in a deep breath, I guided my fingers along the contents atop my nightstand stopping when they hit my cell phone. It was three o’clock in the morning, but I knew he wouldn’t mind. He never minded. In the two years I had known him, I’d only seen him upset a handful of times all of which were work-related.
He picked up on the fourth ring. "Hey you," he answered groggily further intensifying my guilt.
"How did you know it was me?"
"My other girlfriend already called me hours ago."
I could almost see the smirk forming on his face. "Very funny," I retorted.
"Did you have another nightmare?"
"Yeah, that makes four now in one week."
Tears started forming with a single one running down my cheek. "Will this ever stop? Haven’t I been tortured enough already?" My quivering voice was bordering on a sob now.
"Shh…shh…it’s going to be alright, Celaine. I’m here for you. In time, the nightmares will fade away leaving you and I and our life together and…"
"Stay with me tomorrow night," I interrupted, more of a plea than a request.
"Hmmm…getting to hold an incredibly beautiful woman for a whole night…I don’t know. I’m really going to have to think about that. I mean, I do have a pretty busy schedule and all…but I’ll see if I can rearrange some appointments around and pencil you in."
"Other than me, you’re the only person capable of mustering sarcasm this early in the morning," my sobbing subsided as a half-smile returned to my face.
"That’s why we’re perfect for each other. We’re the soul mates of smart ass."
"I love you."
"I love you too. Now get some sleep. You’ve got a busy day ahead of you tomorrow. Loans to decline, lives to shatter, you know, fun stuff."
"Thank you. I’m not sure what I would do without you."
"Well, fortunately, that’s something you’ll never have to worry about. See you tomorrow, beautiful."
I hung up the phone, getting out of bed to stretch my long, tired legs. It would be at least another hour before I’d be able to fall back asleep again. Switching on the lamp atop my nightstand, I walked down the hall of my apartment to my cold, uninviting bathroom. Its tile floor was like sheer ice underneath my feet making me shudder. I reached for one of the disposable plastic cups on the basin to fill with water. Not only did the nightmares affect me emotionally, but they also took a toll on me physically. My throat was dry and the same knee I smacked on the floor in the minutes before the explosion throbbed in eerie phantom-like pain. Some nights I swore there was still glass imbedded in my skin. Some nights it felt as though I’d lived through the devastation all over again. As I so often did after my nightmares, I opened the drawer of my bedroom nightstand taking out the worn photo album. The photo album had been one of few possessions I’d salvaged from my parents’ home before my move to Iowa. Its cloth cover was somewhat faded from years of wear with the pages beginning to yellow. Turning them with care, I soon found what I was looking for: the last family photograph ever taken of us.
There I was in all my awkward teenaged glory, smack dab in the middle. We were all wearing our standard, identical photograph attire: matching blue sweaters and khaki pants. It’d been Carol’s idea, of course. Oh how I missed Carol. She was so gorgeous in this photograph with her hair, the color of toffee, pinned back. George looked so regal, so professional, and so proud. Then there was Jake. I’d often wondered what he would look like now as a young man. Would he be in medical school following in George’s footsteps or married with children of his own? Anger overtook the sorrow in me while the feelings of the injustice of it all came flooding back.
"There will be a day," I spoke to them as they if they could hear me. "I promise you, one way or another, there will be a day of retribution."
I tucked the loose photograph back into the photo album, turned off the light and laid back down in bed. While laying there my thoughts drifted to the aftermath of the explosion. My Aunt Tasha had done everything she could think of to make my life as normal as possible and, considering the circumstances, she’d done a wonderful job. Of course, she was nothing like the hawk Carol had been. Under Tasha’s supervision, I‘d been allotted way more freedom than any teenager should possess. At times, she’d seemed more interested in playing the role of big sister to me rather than acting as my maternal role model but, when push came to shove, she managed to step up to the plate. This ensured my grades were always up to par and that I kept relatively out of trouble. Not that there was a whole heck of a lot of trouble I could have gotten into. After all, there really wasn’t much to do in Iowa besides outhouse tipping.
Much to Tasha’s chagrin, after graduation I decided to come back home to Maryland. Some would argue I was a sadist or a glutton for punishment. Regardless, I still felt at home here. Plus, a part of me needed the closure in seeing the Memorial site that was erected two years after the explosion at The Lakes. In a strange way, seeing the Memorial gave me a sense of peace. It was something tangible. Of course, Lucy had been beyond thrilled with my decision to move back. We’d ended up attending college together; she studying psychology and I, finance.
My decision to move home inadvertently became the best decision of my life the day I met Chase Matthews. Shortly after my father’s death, Hope Memorial Hospital created a scholarship in honor of him for those young medical students interested in studying pediatrics. Catching wind of my return, the hospital contacted me requesting that I present the scholarship to that year’s winner. At first I was a little hesitant. I wasn’t sure how I would react to all the stares and inevitable awkward conversations, but I knew that my father would have wanted me to do it.
Every presentation ceremony started off with a memorial to my father. Doctor Taylor, the pediatric surgeon who’d served as a resident under him, gave the speech every year. Sitting on the stage, I could see the admiration in his eyes as he spoke of him. During Dr. Taylor’s speech that day, I sat on the stage scanning the audience, looking for any familiar faces. That’s when I saw him. He was boyishly cute with shimmering, sky-blue eyes and the smirk of a hardcore smart ass. He was resident Chase Matthews. A fan of my father’s work with the pediatric unit, he was as close to perfection as I had seen, and he was staring at me.
A rush of heat poured into my cheeks alerting me to the fact that I’d probably turned twelve shades of red. As much as I tried to, I couldn’t divert my attention from him. I was so entranced that, when it came to be my turn at the podium, my name had to be called twice to snap me out of it. Two years later, I was still under that same trance.
With memories of my initial encounter with Chase Matthews flashing through my head, I managed to fall peacefully back to sleep.
The sun beamed into my fourth floor apartment creating a makeshift heating pad on my back. It was another fabulous workday morning. Another day of fun and finance awaited me at the First American Bank & Trust. Don’t get me wrong, FAB was just fabulous. Unfortunately, many careers it had just grown too mundane for me.
It was a perfect summer day and, if not for the presence of armed soldiers on every block, it would have also seemed like a normal summer day. Their presence was an omnipresent reminder that things were still far from normal here. We were still living in the nightmare of unwavering paranoia with every person, parked car and building being a potential target for lethal destruction. Pure anxiety served to reduce a once bustling, crowded city street to just a few brave souls using it to commute warily back and forth to work.
The attack on The Lakes created a fork in the road for more than just those whose lives it’d directly impacted. A Pandora’s Box had been opened in its wake, unleashing a chain of events overseen by the Brooks’ Administration. Military enforcement of Brooks’ new order swept through the nation generating a false sense of security. The fall of democracy had been met with praise by Congress and the highest approval ratings of any President in history. President Brooks was keeping us safe; President Brooks cared about society. Bullshit. At least, that was my opinion.
After the revocation of the Twenty-Second Amendment allowing Brooks at least one more term in office, suspicion rose amongst us more cynical members of society. The more vocal members of this opposition--radicals they were called--were said to be launching a rebellion against President Brooks as they considered him just as dangerous as The Man in Black. The Man in Black or any other responsible party still hadn’t been apprehended and, although conditions had become markedly more calm the last couple of years, there were still random attacks occurring.
This decline in instability was due, in part, to the appearance of an inexplicable duo who’d mysteriously appeared on the scene in the last couple of years. Many thought they were subhuman, robotically engineered by the Department of Defense to counteract The Man in Black finally putting an end to the insanity. There was something different about this duo. Their abilities were not of this world. Normal humans simply couldn’t make the graceful yet deadly movements that they could. Normal humans couldn’t leap into the air at the staggering heights nor did they possess the speed they did. Normal people could not take on The Man in Black. They were our nation’s very own "superheroes", sent to destroy The Man in Black and make our world safe again.
In some ways, I loathed the necessity for their existence, but mostly I longed to have the abilities they mastered. To be able to deliver the fatal blow and watch the life leave the eyes of the person responsible for the attack on The Lakes just as they must have watched my family die would be the best form of justice. I was a block away from work when I heard the commotion coming from the corner behind me. The newspaper had just hit the newsstands and, from the sounds of it, it appeared as though there had been another attack. Curious, I did an about-face heading back in the direction of the commotion.
"Can you believe it," one red headed, freckled woman cried out. "It’s terrible, just
Another woman chirped in, "It just proves that this madness will never end."
I stood on my tip toes peering over the crowd to catch a glimpse of the headline:
A wave of nauseated shock ran over me. How could this be? These super humans, they were mortal? I guess I shouldn’t have been too surprised. The duo had to have been at least partly human and there wasn’t exactly anything manmade out there that wasn’t entirely indestructible. Nonetheless, it was shocking and I’d grown almost immune to shocking the last ten years. In disbelief, I headed back down the sidewalk to my job as the lowly loan officer.
The mayhem didn’t recede when I entered the usually quiet, mundane atmosphere of the bank. Everyone was abuzz with the news of our hero’s demise.
"How could this have happened?" Travis one of the other loan officers and a constant thorn in my side with his by-the-book attitude inquired.
Veronica, a teller and my closest friend outside of Lucy, piped in, "Geez Travis nothing is impossible nor is there anything that is indestructible. Besides this would be a great career opportunity for you now that there’s an opening."
"Oh really, how do you figure?"
"With that hard head and that thick hide of yours, it would be almost impossible for a bullet to wound you."
A snicker erupted through the crowd. Travis was not exactly a favorite amongst our usually tight-knit group.
"Hi Celaine," Veronica greeted me with her all-too-cheery-for-this-time-in-the-morning voice.
"Hey," I replied. "I see we’re starting in early on Travis today." Travis let out a disgusted groan and headed to his office.
Veronica was one of the first people I’d met when I came back to Maryland. Leaning on each other in hard times like an emotional crutch, we’d had the unfortunate coincidence of having had family members killed in an attack. Veronica flipped back her long raven hair, the envy of every woman at the bank, following me into my office.
"So, do you have any big plans tonight?" she asked.
"Actually yeah, Chase is coming over tonight and we plan on going out to dinner. Last night was another bad one and I think he feels sorry for me," I replied with a stifled laugh. Veronica looked at me with concern growing in her eyes.
"You had another nightmare? Celaine, this is really getting ridiculous…maybe you should get some help.
"Are you saying I’m not right in the head?"
"We already knew that."
"What I mean is that maybe there’s something more behind your dreams. You know, like…like psychological or something. Maybe you need to work your inner demons out with a licensed professional. Doesn’t one of your friends work in that field?"
"Lucy? Believe me, she’s given me more than my fair share of free counseling throughout the years. Actually, I’m pretty sure she uses me as an exemplar for the mentally ill when she’s in session with patients."
Veronica laughed. "I just worry about you Celaine."
"I really appreciate that Veronica, but Chase takes really great care of me."
"I’m sure the boy wonder does," she said with a wink. "I don’t know how, for the life of me, you can be around that human encyclopedia all day. He would give my brain a knowledge overload."
"What can I say, I like em’ nerdy."
"That you do…that you do."
With that, she leapt from her perch on my desk nearly spilling coffee in my lap in the process. As she proceeded to her booth in the front of the building she offered up another jab in Travis’ direction for good measure. A quick retort of "Bite me" rang from his office to which she replied, "Is that all you got, I’m sorely disappointed, Weiner."
"It’s pronounced Wine-ner."
"That’s not how it’s spelled Weiner"
Besides the obvious monetary gain, there were definite advantages to coming to work.