By Nicola Ward
I canít breathe. Why canít I breathe?'' My eyes opened and I choked and sputtered, spitting the liquid out of my mouth. My hands flew to my throat as I could feel myself reaching, my body jerking out of my control. Oh God
Somehow my feet found the floor in the darkness that had consumed the room. I couldnít see a thing, reaching out blindly, trying not to bump into anything. I couldnít place the taste of the liquid coming out of my throat but it was somehow familiar as it trickled down my body, soaking my skin.
I reached the bathroom, flicking on the light and collapsing next to the toilet before lifting myself up and vomiting. My vision came back, the light painful to my sense of sight. The light bulb was reflecting in the water in the toilet, but the light shone with a red light, not white. No, that was just the red in the water, not the light itself. Red? Why is the water red?
I stood, trembling, and stumbled to the mirror, steadying my gaze so I could see myself. Blood was tricking from my mouth in a constant stream. My chest heaved as my eyes took in that sight, my mouth and torso soaked with the red liquid. Gasping I flung myself away from the mirror and back into the bedroom, lying on my wet bed on my chest, trying to forget what I had seen.
"Chris. Chris, turn around." Hands took my shoulders and turned me round, pulling my body into a warm embrace. I looked up to see who it was Ė Lor. "Chris, donít worry," he said. "Youíll be all right. Just get it up. Get it all up."
"What are you doing here?" I gasped, clutching my chest. "Did you do this?"
"Ssh. Just sleep. Sleep and dream of nothing." He pushed me back on the bed and threw the covers over my body. "Youíll be all right, Chris," he repeated. His fingers ran over my eyelids, shutting them, his other hand stroking my forehead in a soothing manner that helped me sleep.
Then he was shaking me and I moaned, trying to push his hands away. "Lor, what are you doing? Get away."
"Chris! Chris, someoneís at the door and I donít know how to open it. Chris, wake up."
My eyes fluttered before I opened them fully, Pip obscuring my vision of my bedroom. I groaned and shook him off, sitting up and rubbing my eyes. "Whatís the matter, Pip?" I asked.
"Someoneís at the door and I canít open it. I donít know how." His eyes showed concern. "Are you all right, Chris? You were talking in your sleep. You said something about Lor and that he did something to you."
My eyes widened for a moment but I shook my head and sighed. "Forget it, Pip. Iím fine. I talk in my sleep sometimes, thatís all."
Pip smiled and wandered over to the bedside table, looking at my clock. "Itís Friday the 15th today," he said, pointing at the clock. "And itís really early."
I looked over at him. "You didnít stay up all night watching my clock did you?"
"Nope. I know how to read numbers and I learned how to spell the days of the week too."
My legs swung over the bedside and I automatically got new clothes out of the drawers and put them on. "Whatís the time?" I asked, rubbing my eyes again.
"Er, twelve past eight," came Pipís voice. He jumped in front of me and took my hands from my eyes. "Weíre going out today, remember? Time to get me some new clothes."
"Not yet, Pip," I answered, smiling. "The shops wonít be open yet."
He appeared to think for a few moments before replying. "Then we can plan what weíre going to do," he said. "When I was in that big city my boss told us boys that we had to plan what we were going to do for the day before we Ďset foot on the streets.í We could do that to help the time pass."
"Let me go answer the door first," I said. But when I opened the door there wasnít anyone there. I looked down both corridors and listened intently, but there wasnít any sound of anyone leaving. Shrugging, I closed the door.
"Who was it?" Pip asked.
"I donít know," I replied. "Maybe we took too long in answering the door."
"You took too long," he countered. "I donít know how to answer the door."
"Smirk all you want, little boy. Iíll just make sure that the hairdresser puts curls in that girlie hair of yours."
Pip grinned his big-tooth grin and pulled on the clothes that Lor had given him the night before. "Can we do our plan now?"
I didnít want to ruin his good humour so I fetched paper and a pen and set to writing down what we were going to do, when in actual fact I knew what we were going to do anyway. But this didnít stop Pip from trying to read the writing, trying to understand it so he wouldnít have to suffer the surprise of the shops we were to visit.
I quickly gave Pip his medicine and, after a quick breakfast and a cleaning up of appearances, we headed down to the village. Pip was in the highest of spirits, looking in all the shop windows and pointing out Ďall the cool stuffí before wandering inside and having a look around. "Are you sure about this, Chris?" he asked me.
I raised an eyebrow at him. "Thatís the fifth time youíve asked me today."
"I know. But all this stuff seems a bit Ö uh?"
He nodded. "Yeah. Expensive." We had already been to four shops, the both of us carrying two bags each.
"I said, Ďdonít worry about ití, Pip. Weíve only got one more shop to go to and thatís it." Following my lead, Pip and I walked into the village centre and sat down for a moment. "Besides, youíve got some nice stuff now and itís only half twelve."
Pip smiled. "And whatís the next stop?"
I ruffled his hair. "A hairdresserís."
"Just donít make them put curls in it," he reminded me, and I laughed.
Once we got back to my dorm in the Academy Pip changed into a set of his new clothes from a bag while I tried to brush his hair out.
Thea walked in just as Pip had finished dressing and stood there, staring at him. "Whoís she?" Pip asked.
"Sheís a friend," I told him and waved my hand in front of Theaís face. "Hello? Anybody home?" Pip giggled.
"Hello, Chris." Thea shook herself out of the stare and smiled at me. "Whoís this little guy?"
I stood and looked Pip up and down, nodding approvingly. "Much better. Thea this is Pip. Pip this is Thea."
They shook hands quickly and Pip grinned at her. "Are you Chrisís girlfriend?"
Thea looked abashed at being asked that question and looked at me. "No," I said for her. "Weíre just friends, thatís all." I turned my attention to the personal computer I had bought that day and motioned Thea to come and look at it with me. I quickly logged onto the Orion Academy website and clicked on the new recruitís link. "Theyíve got some jobs on offer, Thea. While youíre here you might as well take a look. Iíve been meaning to tell you ever since I got back from my job but I kept on forgetting."
"Oh, thatís what I meant to tell you," Thea replied. "Iíve got a job now. But I canít tell you it though."
"Just as you canít tell me other things as well I suppose," I said and switched off the computer.
Thea went and sat on my bed next to Pip, who was busy looking at himself in the mirror on the opposite wall. "So where did Chris pick you up?" she asked him.
Pip faced her and he frowned momentarily. "I canít remember," he said. "I did know the name of the place, but I canít remember now."
"Oh you poor thing," Thea murmured, taking Pipís hand and giving it a squeeze. "Donít you worry about anything. Chris and the rest of us are going to help take care of you."
I turned around in the chair and looked at her, bewildered. " ĎThe rest of usí?"
Thea smiled. "Yeah. You canít possibly handle Pip on your own. So Iíll have the rest of the gang pitch in."
Pip stood and came to stand beside me. "Heís done all right so far," he said in a defensive tone. "You and Ďthe rest of the gangí didnít take me off the streets. Iím staying here."
I could see that Pip had hurt Thea more than heíd realised, but I didnít say anything, even when Pip knelt beside me and wrapped his arms around my waist, seeking protection. "Iím sorry," Thea said calmly. "I didnít know that you didnít want help from anyone else." The calm in her eyes seemed to be unearthly and for a moment I feared her.
"Thea, Pipís going to be fine." I put an arm around Pip. "If I need help then Iíll call, but not before. Iíve still got a lot of work to do but looking after Pip shouldnít prove too much of a problem. Also I would appreciate it if Pip only met a few people at a time when Iím around. It wouldnít be any help if strangers surrounded him all the time. He is timid." I stroked the boyís hair softly and looked at Thea, smiling. "Donít worry about me or the boy. We can manage."
I was pleased when Thea smiled back, the calm vanishing from her face. "Anything you say, Chris."
"I didnít like her," Pip said after sheíd left.
"Why?" I asked. "Why didnít you like her?"
He stood and threw his arms around my neck, holding me tightly. "She hated me," he whispered. "She hated me a lot."
I sat him on my lap and cradled his head to my chest. "She didnít say that she hated you, Pip. She looked like she liked you."
He sobbed quietly, his shoulders shaking. "But all I could hear was how much she hated me. And when you said that you could look after me by yourself she went mad."
"How could she be mad at you? She never said anything." I stroked his back and neck softly, soothingly.
"You didnít hear her? Nothing at all?" Pip looked up at me, his gray eyes wide. "But I did. I swear I did She was saying that she thought I was your son and that you had gone off with another woman. She hates you too." He curled his legs to himself and clung to my shirt. "She hates us both. You have to believe me, you have to!" He was shaking me in desperation and I knew than that he had been through this before.
"Pip! I didnít hear her say anything! She didnít say anything to suggest that she hates us both!" I took him by the shoulders firmly and shook him back, trying to gain control of the situation. "She didnít say anything."
He struggled in my grasp, pulling free and running to the other side of the room. He was trembling. "I thought you would protect me," he whispered. "But youíre just like them people on the streets with their fancy clothing and walking sticks and stuff. They hated me, Thea hates me. And now you hate me."
I could feel my own body trembling now. "Pip, Iím sorry." I crouched beside him and pulled him against me, but the tension in his body still remained. "Iím sorry. But I didnít hear her say anything that you said you heard. Iím sorry that I donít understand what youíre saying."
Gradually the tension dissipated from his body and I felt him return my embrace. "Iím sorry too," Pip whispered back. "Iím sorry, Chris. I know you donít understand. Nobody does." I thought about what he had said about Thea until he spoke again. "Promise me you wonít let her near me. You donít understand why, I know that, but donít let her come near me. Sheís mad."
"I promise," I replied and kissed his forehead.
Over the next few days I considered it that Pip might suffer from a condition that I wasnít aware of. But I decided against testing him for it as he would know what was going on and that would only remind him and myself of the argument that weíd shared in my dorm. I did ask Lor when we met that Friday evening if there was any other way of testing him where Pip wouldnít know what was truly going on, and was dismayed when Lor said that there wasnít. "We have to talk to the child to test their speaking skills and have to be able to find out how long it takes them to understand the question," he said. "We also have to know what answer the child gives us. Iím sorry, Chris, but without that type of information using a cat-scan or anything like that isnít going to help us get all the information we need to obtain a final diagnosis."
On Sunday 17th I took Pip to the Training Area with me so he could watch mercenaries practise battle techniques and figure out codes on a range of computers. "Could I be one of these?" he asked me. "Could I be a mercenary?"
"If you train hard enough," I told him. But the thought of Pip doing the type of jobs I had to do sickened me.
I had encountered problems over those past few days since I had returned to the Academy with Pip because everyone had assumed, once they found out Pip was here, that he was actually my son that I had to look after seeing as the mother had died. I never did find out who started the rumour, but whoever had started it obviously couldnít find anything better to do than to humiliate other people with simple lies. "He isnít my son!" I said again to Ian. He had only recently opted to become a mercenary and had to study techniques that he wasnít familiar with.
"Yeah of course he isnít, Chris," he replied and winked. "Youíve been up to some naughty stuff."
I glared at him. Pip seemed to be enjoying the conversation thoroughly, looking at Ian and me with interest. He knew what the conversation was about but he never interrupted. ĎAll too amusingí he had said to me, Ďto want to stop ití.
Reo patted me on the back with a sweaty hand from his workout, making me jump, and said that he believed me, although it was pretty obvious that he didnít. "We all know youíre not the kind of person to do that kind of thing," he said. "You ignore what all these people say about you."
"If Pip wasnít here right now Iíd have to-" I started, but stopped when Pip started wincing. I crouched down beside him. "You all right?" I asked him.
"Yeah," Pip gasped. "Iím fine. Just my cuts. Theyíve been getting kinda sore."
"Are they the cuts that are on his back?" Reo asked. I nodded and Ian and Reo flushed with anger. Everyone felt for Pip, regardless of who he was or where he came from.
"Weíll go see the Doc and get those looked at," I told Pip. "I know Iím not your real father but I might as well play the part, seeing as youíre my responsibility now." Pip smiled as he did so often now and ran in front of me, jeering at me for being so slow. I heard Ian and Reo laugh behind me as Pip rounded a corner and exited from the Area, running off ahead.
"Youíll have some fun with him," Ian said loudly. "He looks like a handful."
I turned around. "Well Iíve only had him for five days," I cried back. "Of course he is."
A week later there was a newspaper article in the Orion village newspaper headlined ĎThe dead among us!í It seemed that the number of people going for medical treatment had doubled since the beginning of the month, almost all of them having the same complaint; weakness from a loss of blood. The doctors were puzzled as there werenít any marks visible on any of the patientís bodies that may have contributed to the loss of blood and no insect couldíve taken so much of it. It wasnít just Orion village either. The Academy was also having the same problem, and there wasnít a proper solution for it. There werenít enough blood donors to help the situation and even less were of the same blood type as the people who were losing blood. The word Ďvampireí started to become common, and it wasnít only your mythical type. It seemed that people thought it to be a human who drank blood, using a syringe to extract the liquid from the body. The rumours didnít quieten down and soon a fear began to grow in students because they couldnít ignore the facts in the Medical Centre any longer. No one could find the cause of the losses.
That Sunday there was a meeting in the Headmasterís office where officials talked with Headmaster Jackson about the problem. It soon got out that there was going to be a thorough search of the Academy, but not many students saw the point of this. Whoever or whatever it was only came at night and, somehow, they knew the thing didnít sleep within the Academy walls. But, a few nights before the search was scheduled, the attacks stopped, leaving no traces for anyone to follow.
"Sir?" The butler walked into Marcusís study and looked around. "Are you well?"
"Iím fine, David," Marcus said from the corner of the room. "Just thinking."
"Is it about Christopher?" The butler, or David, put his hands behind his back, standing straight.
"At ease," Marcus sighed, waving a hand. His put his hand on the armrest, feeling the fabricís softness beneath his fingers. "I am thinking about my young employee, David. He just Ö went. After what I said to him."
David went and stood beside his master. Never in all his years of service had he seen his master like this. "Are you sure that you will be all right?" he asked.
His master looked at him and gave a weak smile. "I will be fine," Marcus assured him. "But I need to see Christopher again. As much as I hate to admit it, he already has the better of me Ė I canít believe Iím worried about his welfare."
David coughed politely. "Well, sir, I think thatís a good sign, if you donít mind me saying so. It says to me that my master isnít completely without feeling."
Marcus motioned for David to sit down in the chair opposite and settled into his own chair more comfortably. "How long has it been since he went? Eleven days?"
"Your condition has deteriorated since that day, sir," David commented. "Youíre letting the boy get to you. He was the one who ran off."
"Yes, but only because I threatened that child," Marcus contradicted. "Do you see now, David, why he left so quickly? Christopher was afraid that if he stayed, and did something wrong, then I would go after the child. But I wouldnít have done." He brushed his fringe out of his eyes, reflecting.
"You did what you thought was right," David said compassionately.
Marcus laughed bitterly. "Well, it obviously wasnít right was it."
David remained silent while Marcus retreated into his thinking. All this worrying over a kid he thought to himself. My master is getting too soft
"David, Iím going to go away for a while," Marcus said suddenly. "I donít know how long Iíll be gone, but I need you to mind the house until I return. Can you do that?" He was relieved when his butler nodded. "Once I get changed Iím leaving. I donít want any packing done at all." His butler agreed again and stood when he left the room. I shouldnít have done that to Christopher he kept thinking. Regret burned his insides painfully, making them ache. He wasnít sure, once he apologised to Chris, if the regret would leave either.
'THE DEAD AMONG US - AGAIN!''
The attacks on people around Orion village have once again taken centre stage as the attacker once again makes his presence known to the students of Orion Academy, not far from the village itself.
We donít know what to make of it," said one of the students, a professional mercenary. "When we heard that the attacker had moved on we were relieved. But nowÖ The public wants this menace gone. Whoever it is, they have disrupted these peopleís lives and all they want is for things to go back to normal.
The Headmaster of Orion Academy, Headmaster Jackson Smith, assured the people today that the students of Orion Academy would do all they could to put an end to these attacks. However, this was delayed as later he told the press that even his own students were being attacked and weakened as a result of it.
The story continuesÖ
I put the paper down on the desk, folding it. So the attacks had started again when they had just barely stopped. And the people demanded action against this person, this thing with a taste for blood. I thought of my dream for a moment, grimacing as I recalled the moment when I saw myself in the mirror. These articles were getting to me, making me dream dreams that frightened me. I made double sure that the locks were secure on the doors that night, fearing for Pipís safety. I couldnít let anything happen to him Ö he was only a child.
But for my own welfare? It isnít possible to stop dreams. If it were possible then I would have ended them before the sun disappeared, letting darkness spread across the land, bringing sleep with it. Bringing my dreams with it.
Dawn, 25th August 7090, AD.
Five thousand years have passed. There is nothing here. The sky is black from all the village fires. Water is scarce because the water that is left is poisoned to try and kill the remaining humans.
Yet all this I have seen before. I don't know how, but I have. And there's pain. More than I thought could ever exist in the world at any one time and more than I can bear.
I still try to help the remaining humans as best I can. But even though they plead and beg I don't stay for very long, in one place that is. It's too dangerous for that, for them and for me. I can't put them in that kind of danger when my whereabouts spread like wildfire in dry bush-land. Then ''they come, destroying what I have helped rebuild, to a degree. Destroying what I have sworn to protect. It's all I can do really, just protect the humans. I can't do much else.
They come to me sometimes, cautiously but determined. They say, "Why don't you join us, stranger? We share the same blood and yet you hunt us down for the human rats. Sooner or later they'll turn against you. Why bother when you can join us? Together, side-by-side, we can reunite and rid this world of these mortals. Make our race supreme."
I kill them regardless of their words. But that doesn't mean I didn't listen to what they said. They were offering me a chance of becoming what I was born to be.
Then I think of the humans, dying of starvation and dehydration, trying so hard to piece back together the world that they once knew, a world that they thrived in, coming up with new ways to help the planet and all its life.
Rage fills my heart whenever I think of them now. I know that in the deepest reaches of my heart I will never join them.
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