You Can’t Go Back-

You Can’t Go Back-

1

A city in ruins. Fires blazing brightly.

Missiles carve streaks through the smoke.

Explosions punctuate the night.

Bits of dirt and rock and burning metal rain down, set more fires.

A sleek silver jet dove from the darkness to begin a strafing run, behind it, a second jet remained higher, dropped parachutes and shot back up into the sky. The parachutes drifted slowly, then began exploding in silvery blurs that shook the world. Boom boom boom boom boom boom boom.

Below, in what had once been an alley, a young man in tattered brown clothing carried an older man in obvious pain.

“What’s that?”

“Percussion grenades.”

“Why?”

“They want to rattle me before I can jump-” the older man raised his right hand, lowered his head and concentrated fiercely.

A light spun from his hand like a smoke ring- moved to about a meter from the two men and grew, spun more quickly. The center of the smoke ring cleared to show darkness within, not the blazing fires beyond.

“What do you see?” The older man gasped.

“Only darkness.”

“Go-”

“But it’s dark-”

“Go! Go now!”

The young man picked up the older man and carried him through the smoke ring.

They dropped a few inches and the young man lost his footing, the older man rolled away.

The younger man reached into the darkness, felt the older man’s hand, gripped it.

There was a sudden blinding light.

As the light faded, the young man was able to see the older man, covered in blood, but still alive.

Then almost complete darkness.

“Where are we?” The younger man whispered.

“A mine- a very deep mine.”

“The flash-”

“A nuclear bomb- the city is lost.”

“Everyone?”

“Those who remain won’t last long.”

“Does their leader believe we are dead?”

After a second’s hesitation the older man shook his head, “He’s felt us-He’s coming-” the older man sighed, defeated.

“We’re trapped-”

“I have enough energy to open one more portal.”

“But the leader-”

“He dare not jump any closer- he might materialize inside solid stone.”

The older man tried to sit upright, winced, gasped tried to focus, gasped again, “He’s here, two levels up-” he drew a deeper breath, tried to focus, raised his right hand- gasped, “He’s got a shape shifter with him, flying, carrying the leader. We have less than a minute.”

He focused fiercely, pushed light from his hand, it spun and solidified again, the younger man watched impatiently, as the center faded, to let light into the mine-

“What do you see?”

“Green, grass, trees, late spring, maybe early summer. There’s a deer-”

“Go-”

The younger man reached back, picked up the older man, spun around and jumped-

“No-”

They fell forward into a soft grassy field- the young man spun around and watched the portal fade, then disappear.

Both men closed their eyes and seemed to be straining to listen for something, or- “I don’t feel him-” The younger man said.

The older man shook his head, “No- He is not here.”

“Where are we? Another planet? A different dimension?”

The older man shook his head, “I don’t know-” then fell back and gasped.

The younger man leaned over the older man and tried to wipe some of the blood and sweat from his forehead.

“You should have left me there.”

“I couldn’t-”

“I could have killed their leader, once and for all time.”

“You would have died with him.”

“That is my choice-”

“I never told you- Kaeren told me you are my ancestor, I would have died before you met my grandmother.”

“You believe anything Kaeren told you?”

“Not everything-”

Voices. They hushed.

“Goshenda flah grommin blah gahomet-”

There was easy laughter.

“I don’t recognize the language.”

“I don’t either-”

The younger man sat up, then dove back down into the cover of the tall grass. “They have fair skin, a young woman, with long blond hair a man with brown hair and an older man with grey hair and glasses.”

“Ta randa ga slath ban groener.”

“They have power, they’re like us-”

“Shhhh-”

“Too late, they know we’re here.”

Three strangers ran to the wounded men. They continued talking in their strange language.

The young woman rolled back her sleeve and showed her arm to the man.

The man had a soft bag on straps slung over his shoulder, he whipped the bag around and opened it, took out a syringe while the young woman made a fist and clamped her free hand at her biceps.

The man inserted the syringe’s needle and drew blood.

“What are they doing?”

“I don’t know, drawing the young woman’s blood.”

The man then withdrew the syringe, tipped it up and tapped it, pushed the plunger just enough to assure himself there were no air bubbles in the syringe, when he went to the older, wounded, bloody man and took his arm.

“I think he wants to inject the young woman’s blood-”

The older man nodded, nervously- “She is a healer- I can’t tell what power he might have-”

The older man allowed the injection to happen. Immediately, his wounds began to heal, in a widening circle until he sighed and smiled, “I can see again-”

The man who had injected him began to wipe the blood and dirt from the older man’s forehead. The older man smiled and relaxed, closed his eyes and passed out.

-May 12, 2009

2. “Becoming Xyrean”

He was eleven years old. The middle child of nine, a large family, considered recklessly large by some, a religious problem by others. He was just becoming aware of the whispers and fingers pointed by the self righteous. He had the feeling, but not the words to describe their disapproval. The anger he felt in response was only just beginning to feel itself multiplied by the frustration of not knowing how to lash back with words that would hurt the accusers as much as their words, gesturers, and expressions were hurting him.

Alone in the family tent in the backyard for the first night in his life, he was feeling the clammy (cool, almost cold) dampness of an early summer night, and drifting close to sleep, feeling a strange and foreign weirdness to the night and the sounds. Inside, his older sisters were having a sleep over- His older brothers had been banished to their grandparents’ for the night, and the younger children were confined to the basement of their ranch style house, with dvd movies, home popped popcorn and Mom and Dad on the couch.

One nearby neighbour woman woke him from his near sleep, shrieking at her daughter, “Just who do you think you are, young lady, to tell me what’s right and wrong?”

A door slammed and the woman shrieked, “You get your ass back in here right now this second, young lady!”

“Blow it out your ass-” was a quick response.

“Good, then don’t bother coming back. It’s time you learned how hard it is to get by in this world, little miss smart ass bitch-”

“Just shut up and find some other excuse for getting drunk and whoring around, I’d have to be out of my mind to come back here and live with you-”

He’d shuddered, shivered and slowly drifted back toward sleep.

But then thunder shook the world, he clutched the sleeping bag at his neck and tried to sit up, then boom boom boom- an earthquake?

Loud, incredibly loud- explosions- came closer and closer-

Boom. There was fire and smoke, and he was flying.

He didn’t remember hitting the ground. He trembled all over, pushed against the ground and managed to sit up- all he saw was in flames, house after house- He looked around and blinked, and then he was walking, walking- trying to identify which house might have been his-

Tramp tramp tramp- the steady rhythm of marching feet- a one word command, in a language he couldn’t identify, the marching halted.

He was in a dark place. surrounded by trees, looking out at the neighbourhood, leaning forward, bracing himself, holding his weight against a tree.

A younger kid, he couldn’t tell from which direction… screamed in pain.

A soldier barked a command- several soldiers left their formation running flat out- with their guns blazing.

The kids screamed louder and then silenced.

“They’re killing kids!” he gasped, doubled his fists and began to charge out at the soldiers.

Something caught him at the mouth and pulled him back.

He struggled forward, but that same unseen something pulled him off his feet and slammed him to the ground.

He’d felt this once before, he couldn’t breath- the ‘wind’ had been ‘knocked out of him’ and continued to rush out…

“What are you? Nuts? You gonna fight high tech machine guns with your fists?” A feminine voice hissed at him through clenched teeth.

She kept her hand clamped over his mouth.

He regained his power to breath, then began to struggle free of her hand.

She brought her free hand down to hold the other hand tight, brought her knee down onto his chest.

“I don’t care if you want to get yourself killed, but I’ll be damned if I let you lead them to me.”

He gave his struggle one more valiant try.

She kneed him in the crotch and kept her hands clamped tight over his mouth. The worst part was, he couldn’t keep from letting a girl know he was crying, couldn’t stop the tears.

There was a new series of sounds, high pitched screaming and explosions that were different from before.

Toink, toink, shrreeeeeeeeee shreeeeeeeee fooomp fooomp Buuuuvvvvvvvvvvvv-

And they were both on their backs, unable to move.

More soldiers, different soldiers, dressed in thick metal or plastic armour- with their faces covered by- weird, kind of animal faced helmets with huge darkened eyes.

They had a bright light and used it to blind him.

When the blinding light faded, one of these strange metal warriors, pointed a weapon at them.

He thought he peed his pants.

“Get them out of here- They are children, treat them as casualties.”

Two smaller warriors, in different uniforms, pointed something at them and streams of blue and white rings of light shot around them- White light exploded and then darkness-

#

He woke up slowly, in groggy stages, into much too bright a light.

“Well good morning-” A woman’s voice sounded like she was mocking him.

He opened his eyes, turned his head and saw her emerge as a dark haired shadow in the over-bright light.

“They gave you some medicine, that might make it hard for you to see anything-”

Her voice sounded a bit more concerned, or friendly. He covered his eyes with the back of his hand and tried to focus on her face, “You’re my neighbour-” he was surprisingly weak.

“Yeah,” she whispered, “I told them you were my brother- or they would have separated us- We’re the only two left alive from our whole neighbourhood.”

“What’s your name?” he whispered.

“Kaeren-” she whispered back, then continued, “I told them my name is Kahtyia.”

“Kah-tya-” he repeated.

“Close enough, and your name is Xyrean.”

“Zyrean?”

“I made it up- it suits you.”

He sighed, he had no idea what that meant, but the light was so painful-

“You had internal injuries-” She whispered. I don’t know what they did, but they operated for hours. And then they gave you some kind of injection that kept you in a coma for almost a week.”

“A week?”

“Yeah, we were on a space ship- then we landed somewhere, I think on an asteroid, maybe inside it-” and then they moved us through some kind of portal or star gate or something, and then we were on a fast train- I have no idea where we are and almost nobody speaks our language.”

Even with both hands covering his eyes, the light that streamed in around them hurt-

He heard her get up and walk away, he heard two or three clicks and she was walking back toward him, “I turned the lights out.”

He nodded, lifted his hands and cautiously gazed around.

It wasn’t very dark, and everything had a kind of sharp, blurred glow. It looked like when you pressed against your eyes and stared at bright coloured lights.

“I’m hungry-” he groaned.

“You can’t eat anything- they built you a new stomach. They’ve been feeding you through intravenous tubes.”

“Through what?”

“Through needles- you’re hooked up to bags of liquid with all kinds of stupid vitamins and stuff.”

“Uhgggg.”

“Yeah- The real food isn’t much better- I think it’s freeze dried and reconstituted or something.”

He thought he’d heard those words before, but he had no idea what they meant-

The the door opened and the lights came on-

“Ahhh!”- he snapped and covered his eyes again.

Three different voices, two men and a woman, then a hesitant fourth voice translated.

“Doctor Johnansen wants to know if you’d like to wear a shield over your eyes.”

“Yes, something-”

“Doctor Phillips says you are healing better than they expected.”

“What did they expect?”

“I don’t know, I will not ask them… And Doctor Karenyana wants to do tests on your memories when you are feeling better.”

“What kind of tests?”

“I do not know that either, that is all, we have other patients to visit. You are lucky, you are still alive.”

And the footsteps echoes loudly as they headed for the door and the one more set of footsteps walked toward the door, closed it and flipped the lights off again, “Do you feel lucky? I lost everything I ever cared about.”

“All I feel is tired, and hungry-”

She put something in his hand, moved his finger, “Maybe you are lucky. They told me that if you’re in pain or if you need to seep, all you have to do is push this button.”

She must have pushed the button, because he began feeling like he was falling away from the sound of her voice, into a comfortable dark place where nothing hurt and nothing was confusing him worse than he already felt.

“Xyrean?” he asked the darkness, “Is my name Xyrean?”

“Do you want it to be?”

“Yeah, sure, it’s better than Wendel-”

“Okay, then Xyrean it is, and Xyrean it shall be.”

-May 16, 2009

3. Owen the Outcast.

The klaxon horns really were loud- ya know?

They shook him out of a day dream.

A quick look around, it was study hall, next to the last period. He could go home and hide out in his bedroom for the weekend- in about an hour… Grade 11, one more year of this sh-

But everything shook. There was a loud crash. Two more crashes. Distant thunder coming closer.

One of the girls screamed.

“This is your principal, Mr Tahuh-” a very loud crash was louder than the public address system- “I repeat, remain as calm as you can, we need an orderly evacuation. Treat this as if it was a normal fire drill-”

Ka blammmmm. The wall with the green “blackboard”, the public address speaker, and this month’s inspirational B.S. was gone, along with scribbled instructions and tonight’s home work assignment. The teacher’s desk was on it’s side, driven part way into the small closet where the extra paper and exam booklets were kept. There were streams of red stuff dripping everywhere.

“Ooops,” he said, “That can’t be good-”

People were running in slow motion all around him. Running every which way- He shrugged and sauntered into the hall.

Bruce Abrams, co-captain of the hockey team, was imbedded in the wall, well, part of Bruce was there. His right arm and both legs were missing. He gasped in disbelief and then focused for a split second. It looked like he was going to blame Owen for whatever was happening, but way too much blood erupted from Bruce’s mouth instead. Then his eyes went blank and his head fell an inch or so forward. Bruce Abrabs wouldn’t be torturing any more underclassmen.

Owen shrugged and looked around. Everybody was running toward the nearest door. Everybody but one girl who was obviously in shock. She looked around and their eyes locked for a split second. Marissa Barker- The amazingly cute tenth grader from two houses down from his grandparents’ big old house near the river. She looked like she was about to smile, but then one of the football players screamed something in that weird slow motion and pushed her, hard, out of his way.

The jerk was barreling down the hall tight at Owen.

Owen took a half step to one side and with a poetic economy of motion, swung his arm back into the football player’s path, caught him right in the throat- knocked him right off his feet. The big, powerful first string offensive tackle reached for his throat and skidded about three yards. He was immediately trampled by a hundred panicked students.

But Owen didn’t see any of that, he calmly stepped around the chaos to the doorway where Marissa was holding her forehead with both hands, trying not to cry. He wrapped his arms around her and held her head against his chest while the world shook worse than ever and something so loud that he couldn’t hear anything at all exploded all around him.

He realized he’d closed his eyes when he opened them and saw much too much light. Most of the building that should have been shading them was gone. The doorway must have saved them. All he heard was the ringing in his ears. Marissa was shaking, clinging to him, and shaking for all she was worth.

He looked around, Most of the corridor that had just been filled with wildly running students was gone. The door and the parking lot beyond it, where everyone had been running to- was a sea of red and bright yellow flame. He looked the other way. Half a dozen nerds and one girl on crutches were standing at the end of what was left of the hallway.

Owen got their attention, pointed behind them. Then he took Marissa’s arm and pulled her out into the chaos.

He moved past the nerds and the girl on crutches and spotted the stairs down to the storage basement- He crossed the yellow and black “Off Limits!” line and caught Marissa as she tripped. He picked her up and carried her down the stairs.

The nerds followed. At the bottom of the stairs The janitor was impaled on a coat rack.

Owen took the keys from the janitor’s hand and fitted the one he had readied into the lock on the door. More stairs. Down. He turned and noticed the girl with the crutches, struggling to get down to them. He pointed at one of the nerds, then the girl and said “Help her-” No sound came out. The nerd looked completely confused, but then seemed to understand.

The two biggest nerds went to help the girl on crutches.

Owen, carrying Marissa, hurried down another flight of stairs and came to
a faded yellow and black sign that said, “Civil Defense- Fallout Shelter capacity, 20 adults, 30 children.”

He wondered whether that was 20 adults or 30 children or 20 adults and 30 children. He remembered the sign near the office that said, “Grade 9: 345 students / Grade 10: 357 / Grade 11: 412 / Grade 12: 397 “

The “fallout shelter” had become a storage closet for weed killer. There was a wall of drums with skulls and crossbones.

He looked around. Three more doors.

Marissa patted his chest and somehow conveyed the idea that she wanted to get down. He helped her stand up. She was shaking fiercely. When he took a step away she almost fell down against the wall.

He reached for her arm, she shook her head and backed away. He made sure she was braced against the wall and went to the first door he’d seen. Locked. The second door was a very smelly washroom. The final door was locked.

He still had the keys in his hands, he looked at them. Some were labeled. “A 345Åç “G 124Åç “SB-2A”, “SB-4Åç

The locked doors had numbers painted on them in very old very green paint. 2A & 5.

2A was a musty old room full of boxes on steel shelving units, mops, brooms, buckets, raincoats with bright orange X’s on them. There was a toilet in the corner and what looked like a shower stall.

Room 5 was a mirror image of room 2A, but the stuff in there looked newer.

Marissa rushed past him to the toilet, fell to her knees and began heaving.

The world upstairs rocked and the lights blinked off and back on.

Owen looked around and saw that the nerds and the girl on crutches had made it down to this level. He beckoned, they didn’t need a second invitation.

The last one in pulled the door closed behind her.

Owen hurried to Marissa. As he passed an open box he realized it was full of thin white towels, the kind he’d seen in the cafeteria. He grabbed a handful and skidded to his knees beside Marissa. When she gave him a pitiful sideways glance he offered her a towel. She managed a weak smile and the world shook violently again, and again and again. The lights went out and stayed out.

A long time after the world stopped shaking a flashlight beam cut through dust and mayhem. One of the nerds had a small flashlight with him or her. Another one was vainly trying to text someone with a cell phone.

“Is everybody okay?” Owen couldn’t hear himself.

The person with the flashlight pointed the beam at himself (yeah, a guy) and mouth “What???”

Owen shouted, “Is everybody OKAY???” and barely heard himself.

The guy with the flashlight took a few seconds to process what he could barely hear, then shook his head.

Owen looked down at Marissa.

The flashlight beam followed. There was a lot of dust all around, and the air was full of more- Marissa was sitting with her legs curled around her on the floor. She’d been wearing faded jeans and a kind of grey-blue cotton blouse with a pocket and three quarter sleeves. (funny what you remember) She was wiping her face with a towel and looked up, shielded her eyes from the flashlight, she might have lost one of her sandals somewhere, other than that, she seemed okay.

Owen pointed to where he thought the not so okay person or persons were.

Marissa gazed into the darkness and nodded sheepishly.

Owen followed the guy with the flashlight to where the girl with the crutches was wiping blood from a nasty gash on one the guys’ forehead. A steel shelving unit was half collapsed with boxes full of towels and paper towels and toilet paper spewed all around.

One of the nerd girls was wrapping one of the nerd guy’s arm with a towel. There were a couple more minot scratches, people were dusting themselves off and the guy with the cell phone got frustrated and threw his phone against the wall. It missed, careened off a box and bounced back and spun around on the floor.

Owen patted the girl with the crutches on her arm and smiled. She smiled and probably said, “He’ll be all right-” then shouted that louder and looked worried.

Owen turned around and went back to Marissa. The guy with the flashlight followed.

Marissa was sobbing, held her hand up and waved them away.

Owen and the nerd checked out the shower. It didn’t work. They found some more boxes around the corner. One flat of plastic 500 ml “Spring Water” “Eau de source Natural” bottles and a box of granola bars. There was a sink back there, a small refrigerator and on counter with a microwave oven and a bunch of candy bars in a display that said, “Help the Handicapped”.

The water bottles were held together in six packs by plastic rings. Owen grabbed a couple candy bars and handful of granola bars, handed the rest of the candy to the guy with the flashlight, took two bottles of water and sent the flashlight guy off with the candy and a six-pack of water bottles.

Marissa gazed at him with a morbid -leave me alone- look, but perked up when he handed her a candy bar. She looked toward the toilet (which had flushed) and looked at the candy bar, shrugged and tore the wrapper. She said something that Owen later guessed was, “My favourite!” and happily accepted a water bottle to go along with it.

#

—Owen was wearing jeans and plain black tee shirt, “I think we spent 3 or 4 days in that basement, We’d eaten all the candy and all the granola bars, still had a full box of water bottles- We guessed that when the school board had decided it wasn’t ecologically cool to keep the water vending machines around, they must have moved a lot of water down there and forgotten about it.

—”Our hearing came back, maybe over night- Marissa slept curled up in a corner the first night and curled up against me from then on. After we filled up the toilet we found some empty buckets with lids and used them for our toilets- The place still smelled pretty bad…

—”Then the soldiers found us. At first we didn’t know whether they were our guys or somebody else’s. They kept their rifles pointed at us and didn’t say a word for almost an hour. When an officer came along and they reported to him in our language we all sighed with relief.

—”They evacuated us at night, in helicopters, flew us out over a burning moonscape that looked like a volcano had gone off or something. They flew all night and brought us to a rocky island somewhere, marched us underground, separated the boys from the girls and barked orders at us like we were in boot camp or something, took our clothes and gave us weird orange jump suits and flip flops. We kind of figured they were treating us like prisoners.

—”After a couple weeks they started training us. They started treating us like it was boot camp. They’d found maybe twenty more kids our age and a bunch of younger ones.

—”Then, after, maybe 3 weeks of this they packed us all into bigger helicopters and flew us over a complete wasteland, loaded us on a submarine and shipped us off to another island, somewhere up near the arctic circle, where they merged the boys and girls into one unit, with a divided barracks and armed guards between us at night.”

—”We had regular drills there, like they would wake us up screaming at 3 in the morning, make us get dressed in three seconds and run outside into freezing rain to stand inspection, shit like that-”

—”Then they sent us somewhere, gave us all brand new automatic rifles and helmets and all that- They threw us into a battle, we fought and killed and died all night and as the sun was rising I jumped into a bomb crater and found another sold]ier there, I whipped my rifle around and she whipped hers around and Marissa and I were staring at each other over loaded deadly weapons. She laughed and collapsed. We both leaned back and listened for I don’t know, maybe half an hour? We couldn’t hear anything. Not even birds, or bugs chirping? Nothing. I crawled around enough to see that we were up on the top of a hill, Not the highest hill in the area, but, fairly high, and it didn’t look like anything was moving anywhere around us-

—”I got back to the crater, sighed, sat down, said, “We might be the only ones left alive-”

—”She crawled over next to me, hugged the hell out of me, actually kissed me, said, “Take me away from all this-” and laughed.

—”A few minutes later she crawled to the other side of the crater and sighed, “Find us another bomb shelter, will you?” Then she raised her head and looked over the edge of the crater, “What the hell is that?”

—”Something exploded, her side of the crater was gone, I looked around and I found her helmet, half her face was a bloody hole, part of her body was about a meter away with, I don’t know, fifty feet of intestines splayed out all around. I stand up and shriek, “You better fuppin kill me too, because I don’t want to live with this memory-” And realize I dreamed the whole thing. I’m soaking wet, a sold sweat, all slimy and the sheets are stuck to me…

—”And when I asked my grandparents if there was somebody named Marissa in a house that I thought was a couple houses down, but there’s nothing there- just an open field… full of weeds. They tell me Nobody ever lived there, not in fifty years since somebody was building a house and it burned down-”

—”So, it’s a dream?,” I ask and this weird little voice in my ear say, “Don’t you dare tell anybody about this dream, They’ll have you locked up for sure.”

—”But now I’ve had that dream about fifteen times, like once a week- and it’s scaring the shit out of me-” He reached forward and turned off the aging camcorder.

-6:46 pm Friday, 22 May, 2009
5,044 words

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