~ Mass Escape at Alterra Prison ~

A Good Edukation

 

It would of course come as no surprise that already fragile institutions like schools and prisons were breaking down as their staffs began to suddenly vanish. If anyone deigned attempts to cling to normalcy they were brief and more often than not destructive.

 

In the case of prisons they had completely shut down. Atrocities had been committed by both inmates and guards in a vain attempt at holding to an already broken status quo. Since, changes had been massive. Prisoners now lived in fenced off neighborhoods and guards were nothing short of gracious as they became more and more outnumbered.

 

For schools actual destruction was rare, perhaps even more so as kids became more inwardly focused, leaving them little interest in the usual harassment of those they saw as lesser. There was as always occasional violence by both the newly and already broken youth but nothing of note had happened at the local level, any significant injury was to property not people: not a single locker remained intact but that was about the extent of it.

 

Schools had naturally had to relax the workload; doing actual work had been left to the individual for some time and schools that remained open were basically supervised study groups. How much actual studying went on was universally laughable. Near the end of the school’s attempt at continuing on normally, a new hire English teacher lasted all of five minutes when he wrote in huge letters ‘A Good Edukation’ as Martin, Jose and the rest of the class began a laughing fit that sent the poor fool running from the room in tears.

censoring the news

 

At no point was there any objective reason for anyone to be optimistic nor had there ever been the slightest appearance that governments would have any answers to the crisis. Frank Lane, the high school principal, had been a non-stop backer of hope, patrolling the halls ready to announce to those in dismay that their loved ones would be back.

 

Many put stock in the solutions of faith groups. In the beginning, a few promised their numbers be spared from the phenomenon but these were quickly disproven by the advancement of time and chaos. Others claimed to offer a myriad of other things: the easing of grief, the understanding of purpose, even the eventual return of those lost were among the promises. While groups and organizations in various forms struggled to find ways to ease the pain and present comforts, Frank seemed to have a new one every day.

 

As Frank sat across from Bella and Karl Drake he knew they’d recently sat with another school official offering solace and hope. Hope was eroding every day as is advocates failed to deliver. As the problem persisted, the people involved had more pain and less comfort.. So, for once, Frank Lane saved the selling of hope; instead, he looked quietly across Bella and Karl's faces, which could scarcely have been less like his. His lower jaw fell several times looking for words but before any could escape his lips. A single tear ran down Frank's cheek communicating his feelings better than anything he could have said. As devastating as the crisis was, for Frank, what hurt most at that moment was that for the first time he was lost as to how to help.

 

As hope faded and people isolated themselves in response, anger took hold. New groups that formed became increasingly hostile to groups whose promises turned empty. Anarchists groups became the order of the day, most benign; only encouraging peaceful action or boycotting. Still some groups were more radical.

 

Locally the worst had been the cult who had blown themselves up along with a few neighbors. Stories from other places were more terrifying. In disaster, those in charge sometimes feel that censoring the news is the best way to quell instability. In situations far briefer this might have worked. In the case at hand it was not. As the situation progressed, rumors from other places normally easily dismissed, when held against official news were most often taken as truth. When the news goes silent people will believe most anything.

 

Some stories were common: a while town vanished… EVEN THE BUILDINGS, a traveler would say. Or someone came back, and it was aliens/robots/super intelligent cows seeking revenge for their fallen fore-bearers (Mooooo!), or any other number of rumors. Of course there was the odd “the president is gone, x famous person or y famous person. There was even a rumor that the Queen of England had vanished. There were also some stranger ones. A tale a few had told was of figures almost too fast for the eye to see moving through the forest, field, dessert, even over water. These particular stories would have been seen as folly had others not heard strange noises and seen crazy lights moments later. One woman said her husband had run to check out just such a scene; all she found was the lower half of him. Most had chosen to assume she had killed him and moved on with life but the more open-minded were concerned.

 

“It will be okay… I just know it!” Frank was off his game and he knew it… ‘Empty platitudes’ he thought critically.

 

“I know.” Bella’s response took Frank further off guard but Karl didn’t really notice. He was too busy mangling a form he was supposed to be reading.

When the fisher began reeling in the line

 

Martin didn't mind laying on the hard ground much; it was easily his most sanguine moment of the day. Feeling almost safe in the notion that there was not a lot farther to fall, Martin slowly rose to a sitting position. Closing his eyes, far more to prepare himself for whatever he might see around him than any actual fatigue. Fact was, as energy levels went for Martin, he was pumped! It was now abundantly clear that whatever was going on, people weren't just gone. HE had gone somewhere! It was that thought that allowed Martin to face whatever he might see upon opening his eyes, so after a moment he did.

 

Looking around Martin was dumbfounded and even a bit disappointed to find that he had been deposited at the camp site just outside of town that his parents had taken him and his sisters to many times over the years. It was all part of Karl Drake's attempts to be sure that his children were 'tough'. Ironically it was invariably Karl who endlessly complained of the bugs and the elements. Martin's father's complaints would have been ruinous to the whole experience if not for Bella's willingness to be the foil for Karl's rant's. Martin and his sisters were eternally grateful as all three grew to have a deep love for the outdoors as they explored and played in nature as Karl droned at Bella in the shelter of the tent.

 

Despite his love for nature, this had been the first time in a long time that Martin had found himself alone in it, so, seeing as he was already there, he decided he would stay a bit and catch some quick rest. Soon though Martin began to doze off.

 

Moments later in what might have felt like a cruelly ironic response to his musings of disappointment with the normality of his current locale Martin was faced with yet another all new experience. While Martin began to drift off, he felt a tiny but very sharp prick of pain in his abdominal core. It was as if a tiny hook had sunk into his flesh, which was nothing compared to moments later, when the fisher began reeling in the line.

 

It was as if trillions of tiny lines with hooks had been cast out to pierce his every cell just as a void suddenly formed at Martin's center and he had at once, in a terrible moment of agony, been sucked into it whole. Convinced that he had just died, Martin looked back at the events of the previous year and mused to himself “Why not a void?” It wasn't like the universe could have stepped things up with much less.

 

No less quickly than he had been sucked into the void, Martin was spat back out. Keeling over from shock Martin, who had a moment before felt as if he could take any sight quickly decided otherwise. Laying in a heap on the ground, Martin could tell a lot about where he was without looking at anything.

 

The air around him was searing hot, but it did not feel like the heat of the sun, but rather more like that which you felt next to a fire only it was hotter than any heat Martin had encountered in the past. Martin's ears and nose only confirmed and expounded upon his notion of terror as he could hear not only the crackling of flame but also a constant and overwhelming rumble of what was unmistakably explosions and gunfire.

 

Disturbing as the sounds may have been, Martin's nose told far more. Struggling to even draw upon the wretched soot filled air for breath was hard enough, but something stank far worse. Martin's nostrils burned with the stench of war, the death mix of blood shit and piss known to every soldier and refugee hung hard in the air.

 

Figuring he was stuck anyway Martin opened his eyes. As sickening as was the smell it paled next to what Martin saw around him. The ground was made of asphalt so cracked from heat it was little more than thick shale. The few standing trees that lined what used to be a street were charred and twisted from fire and heat like dead spiders perched on blackened pillars. Burnt husks of cars sat silently atop cracked or shattered driveways and the sky was a sickly burnt orange. Whatever structures once existed were now ashen rubble. It was as if this place was once home to spiders - architects of webs that covered the ground only to be done in and placed on pillars by some far greater force to warn others with similar designs. Martin might have thought he was in some other world, or at least another part of the world, if he had not recognized the shape of the landscape just enough to know the street where his home at one point stood.

Rock, Hard Place

 

Bella and Karl Drake lingered as Karl ‘read’ and signed forms to check his two daughters out of school. Karl never read forms, much less directly after he had just found out the second of his two sons had vanished, but staring at the papers meant not having to look at the face of his wife who now sat only inches from him for fear he would break down on the spot. A psychologist by trade, Karl could not deny the epic mess he was in. As he read he clutched the papers tightly, betraying an unbearable urge to strangle who or whatever had brought him to this point. This, for Karl was the worst of it. Lacking even the vaguest notion as to who and why he had lost and was helpless in who he could lose next was near enough to send him off the rails. Opposite that\, and probably the only reason Karl had not already given in, was Bella.

 

Bella, as she always had been, was the definition of cool under pressure. Of course her as yet secret belief was a great help. Bella worked as an accountant for Karl’s practice but in truth she ran every aspect of the business aside from actual sessions with clients. It was Bella’s ability to keep the healer healthy that allowed for healing at all, but even she would have to admit that lately she had slipped. Bella felt she had been too late in sharing her faith that her loved ones would be returned, and now she could barely wait to tell her husband. Karl, though he didn’t know it, needed to hear it just as much.

 

The length of time the adults took didn't end up mattering much, as Rayn refused to leave, saying 'she needed a minute' but before anyone knew it an hour and a half had passed.
 

“Honey please, we have to go!” Bella pleaded half heartedly. As the mother of four she knew better than to spend energy fighting her most stubborn child of four stubborn children in normal times if Rayn's mind was made up. In time's like these, there was no hope. Bella's belief that her loved ones were alive kept her sane but not by much; she worried about Karl.

 

“Lets get something from the vending machine.” Karl had low blood sugar and couldn't wait any longer. Still, his words lacked passion, Karl was still able to go through the motions but not only was the fire missing, any momentum was fast running out.

 

“I thought they'd never leave” Rayn said as if she'd been holing her breath.

 

“Wait, no.” Sara dreaded it but knew what came next. “Mom and dad will kill us!” but Sara secretly wanted to hear her plan.

 

“Maybe, but hey - killed today, vanished tomorrow... rock, hard place. Right now, the last thing either of us wants is to face mom and dad's inevitable attempts to console us.” it was undeniable - Rayn was right.

 

Sara took her sister's hand and walked out the door. It was as if she had stepped out of herself and into a new world. It was as if this first act of utter defiance had birthed someone new into the world. In an instant, Sara had become someone she hardly knew, but if Sara was sure of anything as she started down the street without pause, no doubt in her mind she would know or find her way; this Sara: was a leader.

 

“Hey, sis, what the hell?!” Rayn, her normal gentle affect struggling to hold as her initial attempts at discussing plans of her own went by her sister unheard, now stood in Sara's path.

 

“I'll tell you what the hell Rayn, I'm going to look for my brother, that's what the hell!”

 

“He's gone Sara! They're all gone!”

 

“It doesn't matter!” Sara's statement put Rayn at a rare loss for words. “Who cares if they're out there, we have no business not looking. With so many gone, with so many more every day, with Jake and Martin and...”

 

As Sara stumbled over River's name, the pair experienced a shared realization that perhaps only twins can share. As much as it burned losing a brother, as much as it hurt now facing the loss of her second, watching Rayn losing River tore at Sara's very soul. As the two hugged for the first time in ages, both of them felt a lot less alone.

 

While so much could have been said both sisters felt the moment would be better finished in silence. The two sat together on a bench for a no longer active bus stop, and with nothing else to do, they just sat, waiting for inspiration.

The Disheveled Masses

 

As Jamie, Jose and Sam arrived at the park the initial greeting was one of suspicion as several unsavory characters turned their gazes towards them. The looks carried an eerie spark of hope as if the arrival of unwanted company and subsequent drama might provide some needed distraction from the hopeless monotony life had become since the crisis had begun.

 

After a fleeting look, the disheveled masses, seeing the black cloths around their arms quickly moved on to other matters. A few in fact brought flowers and other offerings to express solace for the trio’s loss.

 

“Do you feel better?” Sam was the one to ask but Jose had been dying to know, he just had a more tactful approach.

 

“Honestly, no.” Jamie had hoped that she could find some peace by accepting the finality of her loss, but instead her mind kept going back to the enormous guilt she felt in that acceptance. It was as if adopting the reality of what had happened gave truth to the events for Jamie.

 

“So what do we do now?...” Jose asked, not really expecting an answer and not getting one. The trio had come to a point of no return while simultaneously reaching a dead end; it was terrifying.

 

“Whatever we do, I'm not going home.” Jamie was resolute.

 

“We could go camping.” Sam joked. purpose, even the eventual return of those lost were

Chapter Six

A Path Unseen