“WORKING FOR H2O” (PARTS 1 & 2) #WeirdDarkness #CreepypastaThursday
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IN THIS EPISODE: Last May, Weirdo family member Sarah Faith sent a story that I narrated called “Working for H2O”. It was a short story, but there was a lot of feedback on it, to the point people were asking if there was a sequel. Well… now there is. But for those of you who have not yet heard the first story, I’m including it here first – and then after the break I’ll return with Part 2!
Listen to ““WORKING FOR H2O” (PARTS 1 & 2) #WeirdDarkness #CreepypastaThursday” on Spreaker.
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“Working For H2O”, Part 1 and Part 2 written by Sarah Faith (Copyright 2020: Sarah Faith Larsen-Barba) https://www.facebook.com/SarahFaithLarsen,https://twitter.com/sarahloveswords
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“I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.” — John 12:46 (Find out how to escape eternal darkness at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2IYmodFKDaM)
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Welcome, Weirdos – I’m Darren Marlar and this is Weird Darkness. Here you’ll find stories of the paranormal, supernatural, legends, lore, crime, conspiracy, mysterious, macabre, unsolved and unexplained.
Coming up in this episode of Weird Darkness…
It’s Creepypasta Thursday – and I have been wanting to get to this one for a while. Last May, Weirdo family member Sarah Faith sent a story that I narrated called “Working for H2O”. It was a short story, but there was a lot of feedback on it, to the point people were asking if there was a sequel. Well… now there is. But for those of you who have not yet heard the first story, I’m including it here first – and then after the break I’ll return with part 2!
Before I begin, I do want to let you know that the story is written from the viewpoint of a female protagonist. So don’t let that throw you while listening to my baritone voice.
Now.. bolt your doors, lock your windows, turn off your lights, and come with me into the Weird Darkness!
Following the failure of Earth’s governments to prevent the nuclear disaster that wiped out much of the planet’s drinkable water, most of us had been forced into work camps. There were no deadbeats in my refugee camp. Propaganda had replaced inspiring posters and entertaining product placement. These days, if you needed to know it to survive, chances were good that it was printed on a poster, a bumper sticker for horse drawn trucks, or painted on the refillable cans of clean air we toted around. “Thirsty? Work will quench your thirst.” “Need some fresh air? Ask your labor leader for directions to your next work site!”
For the privilege of being refugee day laborers, we received food rations, a can of breathable air that was the size of a fire extinguisher, and one respirator. Money no longer existed, which was a good thing. However, a handful of people having all the power was alive and kicking. We had to work for the clothes in which we existed. We worked and slept in whatever jumpsuit, camouflage, overalls, or scrubs that we received on the first day. If they were too tight, they wouldn’t be for long. Dirt, on the other hand, was the new normal. The blue planet was probably looking more like its cousin Mars. Between the giant holes in the atmosphere and the lack of a rainy season for two years, Earth was fifty shades of dirt. Monsoons rained down chemicals, further destroying the oceans, land, and every last shred of our jacked-up past.
Most days, the air cans and the respirators were not enough to keep the carcinogenic particles out of our lungs. Some nights, instead of trying to sleep with the aid of contaminated clothing and clogged filters, some would volunteer for the really dirty jobs. If you could survive those, then you could be rewarded with a second air tank, or a gallon of bottled water that may be expired but no one cared enough to turn it down. How about a semi-safe chemical dip? It was the closest thing to a shower. I had not had a shower since I had been sent here nine months ago. I had not slept for more than four hours, either, because I never had enough canned air to make it to five hours.
Today we rode in the back the trucks that had been dubbed HPs for horsepower. Even the horses had to work for their water in this new, dusty world. We rode in silence. No one could spare the extra strain on their lungs brought on by small talk. I did not know where today’s extra credit work site was, but I was grateful for the chance to be moved from one place to another without using what little sole remained on my shoes. After some time rolling across wasteland in our camp’s district, oil rigs came into site. I quickly noticed that none of the rigs were operating. For the remainder of the ride, I theorized why a world attempting to recover from absolute fallout would send survivors to an oil field.
The mystery was solved when we were directed to an opaque pond of crude oil. Sticking out of the pond was the front end of an obsolete delivery truck. A tall, skinny man wearing a speaking mask moved to the front of the group. It did not take long to learn that those who wore speaking masks had more power than the rest of us. “In that puddle of oil is hope for all of you.”
The worker next to me, I think she was a woman, too, began to make frightened noises. She stumbled back away from the shiny, black pool. She took off the bandanna and respirator that covered her mouth. In a loud whisper she managed to say, “I’m not going in there. It’s a trick.”
Some people gathered around her and struggled with her to get her mask back into place. Another skinny person with a speaking mask asked her where her can of air was. She gestured with her hands that she did not have one. An electronic voice came from the mask, “You can’t go to a level three work-site without a tank. it’s against regulation.” Now the person pointed to the bright blue letters painted across the cab of our HP. “LEVEL 3 WORKSITE HP. ALL REFUGEES MUST HAVE AIR TANK.”
The other, shorter person whose work gear sported several red crosses said, “It’s Air Madness. I’ll stay with her.”
The old me would have spent more time helping this person. The new me was thirsty and probably also suffering from lack of clean air to the brain.
My attention went back the job. I watched as the foreman handed out marigold colored hazmat suits. The electronic voice continued. “After you put on your suits, go into the lake and retrieve the items that fell off this delivery truck. Whatever you find will be yours to do with as you wish. And as always, please remember the horses.”
Funny, I thought, they never encourage us to remember our fellow man, but I did not need the reminder. I was still young and might live to see the end of this, but she was old. I decided that whatever prize I won here today, I would share with that poor woman. I walked through the line, received my suit, and then followed the others into the black goo. We had no tools for locating things below the surface which left all of us to bending low and feeling around with our hands. Finally, someone was either brave enough or desperate enough to go under in search of their reward. A moment later, that brave soul came back to the surface with a cylindrical object that resembled a five-gallon water bottle. Soft applause could be heard from the others. No one cheered with their voices anymore. We spent most of our days in physiologically imposed silence. Our world may not have been peaceful but it was quiet.
One of the workers who had no hazmat suit came to collect the things that had been found in the pool. The crude oil slowly slid off the items to reveal their original appearances. “Glacier Falls Enhanced Spring Water.”
My determination was renewed. I began to make short, shallow dives into the crude, reaching wildly at first, then later trying to make my movements more effective. My first item was a five-gallon bottle of spring water. I was already fantasizing about washing my face in H2O and not with watered down hand sanitizer. I was so focused on obtaining every item, that I did not notice when other workers had stopped from exhaustion. I went into the black again and again, finding more items: pre-packaged and canned foods, toothbrushes and other toiletries. It seemed that this truck had been headed to a grocery store when it crashed into this pool of oil, and thanks to a world where nearly every item seemed to come in a hermetically sealed package, I was able to retrieve enough items to sustain myself and the old lady but to help the entire camp for a little while.
After we returned to the camp, I was summoned by our leader who resided in a heavily modified trailer. I was showed in and after the door was closed behind me, was told by our leader, Major Heart, to take off my mask. Then I noticed that he was not wearing a mask. Even when we endured our chemical showers, we had to cover our mouths with something or be turned away. Even when we ate, we moved our masks aside between bites. I had not removed my mask for more than a moment in nine months. “It’s alright, Charlotte. The air here is purified. Take a deep breath now. You’ve earned it.”
As I slowly removed the layers of bandanas and random pieces of fabric that covered my respirator, Major Heart went on to explain that I had exhibited great leadership qualities at the oil field. “If you are interested, and I’m sure that you are, you will be issued a speaking mask, upgraded living quarters, and a group of workers to supervise. What do you say?”
I removed my mask and inhaled too deeply. I became so lightheaded that I lost my balance and bumped into the wall. Major Heart stepped forward and cautioned me to take shallow breaths until my brain had time to adjust to these new levels of purified oxygen. The air had a cool, almost sweet quality of a room whose dank atmosphere had been scrubbed by a powerful AC unit.
I enjoyed breathing the air a little longer before I tried to speak. When I tried, all I could produce was a dry cough.
“Don’t worry. You will learn to do that again, too.” And, he handed a heavy flask to me. “Drink it slowly but drink it all.”
I did as he said and returned the flask to him. “Thank you,” I managed to croak. “I am worried about my fellow workers and our conditions.” I took several breaths before I spoke again. “It’s stressful on people to exist for months at a time in survival mode. We have lost everything we have ever known. We have lost every sense of self. If I accept a speaking mask job, I want to know that whatever I do won’t only benefit myself and the horses. I want to make the conditions here better for everyone.”
“And you will. It is clearer now than ever that little progress can be made without water. People will die without water. So, how can we expect them to work on only a few sips a day? We are opening a new camp near the base of Mt. Hammersley. Our latest tests show that the H20 runoff there is the purest in the district. We need workers there testing and bottling water. You will pick a crew of laborers to take with you.” Now he handed a green duffel bag to me. “You leave tomorrow.”
Keep listening – the much anticipated sequel of “Working for H2O” is coming up next!
Our next Weirdo Watch Party is Friday, April 10th at 7pm Central Time! Join me at EerieLateNight.com and watch horror host Bobby Gammonster as he presents the 1968 Peter Cushing film, The Blood Beast Terror! While we all watch the movie online, we can hang with Weirdo family members in the chatroom and make snide/snarky remarks about the film! Not only is it a lot of fun, but it also supports the undead creative horror hosts who still entertain us with old scary movies! Be sure to set a reminder on your phone or put it on your online calendar so you don’t miss it! Friday April 10th at 7pm Central Time – that’s 8pm Eastern, 5pm Pacific Time, 6pm Mountain – at EerieLateNight.com. That’s EerieLateNight.com!
Want to win a free Weird Darkness Prize Pack? Ever Saturday is “Post Share Saturday”! If I draw your name you’ll win a “Proud to be Weirdo” t-shirt along with two Weird Darkness stickers and an old-time radio “Come Into The Darkness” magnet! How do you enter to win? It’s easy. Every week I create a new Facebook post that is pinned to the top of the page at Facebook.com/WeirdDarkness where you can share it on your own profile/pages/groups to be in the random weekly drawing! ***** This week’s winner was WILLY ADKINS FROM DEKALB, ILLINOIS! ***** A new winner is chosen every week! Share as many times to as many pages as you wish! You can enter right now while you’re listening, just share the post from the top of the page at Facebook.com/WeirdDarkness, and be sure you share it publicly so I can see your name! That’s Facebook.com/WeirdDarkness.
“Brenda.” She shook my hand. I recognized her from the oil field. “I was a surgical resident in 2525.” It was the relief agencies who had assigned the numerical nickname to the day the bombs went off. “Now I’m a walking medical arts building.” She smiled, an expression that was close to extinction in the work camp. “Let’s get you cleaned up.”
My vocal cords stuck together like rubber bands. “Great,” I whispered, “another chemical dip.”
“Today’s your lucky day, kid. You’re getting a genuine H2O dip today.”
I followed her to a long row of shower stalls that might have come off the set of a war movie.
“When I was shipped here nine months ago, I was forced to shower in something they called water. I didn’t enjoy it.”
She huffed. “Tell me about it. Once was enough. When was the last time you enjoyed a shower?”
February 5th, 2025 was my first day back to work. I was up early and finished with my typical workout of stretches and cardio. Since medication was out of the question, exercise was my anxiety remedy, and that morning, I needed a double dose. I was in my kitchen drinking a mug of herbal tea when I received a text from a friend encouraging me to “live for today because tomorrow is not guaranteed”, or something like that. As I typed “Thank you,” my phone blared like one of those Amber Alerts but ten times louder. I screamed and dropped my phone. An unnatural commotion was gathering around me.
I blinked. “They said it was neutron bombs. Is that true?”
Brenda tugged at the duffel bag and it fell from my hand. “Save your strength.” The upper part of my body drooped forward like a puppet whose strings had been cut. “You’re too dehydrated to take a shower. How ironic is that?” She pushed on my shoulder and I fell into a clumsy squat. “Have a seat. I’ll be right back.”
I blinked several times to fight off exhaustion. Painted inside my eyelids was the familiar flashing red triangle. Sudden oppressive silence took my breath just before light shattered the stillness. Then came the screeching monsoon of fire and wind, as though dragons had taken over the earth.
Brenda handed a one liter jug to me. “It’s electrolyte water. Tastes like pink lemonade. After your shower, straight to medical for IV fluids. Then, we’ll get you some nourishment tablets. More nutritious than those sodium laden MREs they’ve been feeding you in the camp.” She sat next to me. “Neutron bombs set off simultaneously around the globe.” She snorted like a pissed off Corgi. “Because they were cleaner. Cleaner?” She shook her head. “No one talks about it, anymore.”
“Workers are too thirsty to talk, and we can’t spare the O2.”
My hands began to shake. My fear was more powerful than my thirst.
“Drink up. It’s not a trick, Charlotte.”
I risked a sip. It was incredible. Ice-cold, pink lemonade. I pressed the side of the jug to my face. Cold, sweaty plastic. I had to stop myself from licking it.
“You can’t believe you’re holding a cold drink, right? We learned the hard way how vital refrigeration is to our survival.”
Leaning my head back, I began to chug. She waved her arms. “That’s enough for now. Don’t want your system to go crazy.”
I stopped chugging long enough to say, “I’m so thirsty.” I struggled to control my thirst. Is this how an alcoholic feels?
“I’m not kidding. Stop or you’ll puke, and be worse off than you are now.”
I was in lust with the cold, electrolyte water and annoyed it was being withheld. My emotions irritated my eyes, but my body could not spare any tears.
Brenda distracted me with a pop quiz about my medical history. After I passed a balance test, she gave the green light. “Before you ask, this H2O has a high sodium content. Not quite sea water but it’s safe for bathing. You’ll be tempted to drink it. But don’t.” When I reached for my duffel, her hand appeared on top of mine. “I’ll hang on to this for you.” She continued talking as she snaked the bag away from me. “You get one shower per week. No more than ten minutes.” She frowned. “That changes sometimes, you know, when water is scarce.”
“What’s up with that? That’s the second time you’ve taken my duffel.”
“Relax. I’m hanging onto this until you’re medically cleared and briefed. It’s mandatory.”
“Seriously,” I exhaled. “I just need some rest.” How long had it been since my last four hours of sleep? Was I greedy to daydream of uninterrupted sleep in a secured building, surrounded by clean air while all the other workers suffered?
“First you need a shower. You can sleep on the way.”
“Sleep on the way?” I repeated.
Brenda lowered her voice. “The Major is breathing down my neck to FastTrack your orientation process.” She stopped herself and flashed a maternal smile. “But first, a shower.” She raised a hand before cackling awkwardly.
Almost blocking the door to the stall was a white container crowned with an important looking sign: Dispose of all contaminated clothing in barrel before entering shower stall. Washing or reuse of contaminated items is forbidden. I dumped my items in the barrel and stepped into the shower.
The Hot Shower fantasy was near the top of every worker’s wish list next to good sex and any kind of pizza. There was a time when I closed my eyes, I could imagine the pizza, the shower, the sex, or all three. But on the roughest days, a fourth item, an outlawed substance, wormed its way into my dreams.
The primitive looking shower might have come off the set of a mid-twentieth century war movie. A stainless-steel chain dangled from a pipe that was a touch fancier than a garden hose. My heart jumped. My rational mind told me to trust the water. I remembered the old woman at the oil field. It’s a trick. Maybe it was air madness, but did that mean she was wrong?
I wanted a shower, but I also wanted not to die considering my situation might be improving. I ignored the hammering in my chest and pulled the chain. Room temperature water dumped on my head. A sudden change in water pressure caused bubbles to clang against the pipes and tripped my inner alarm. I knew this was too good to be true. My cravings are finally going to kill me. I covered my face and screamed.
The water stopped and I heard Brenda’s voice. “I thought something like this might happen. This isn’t the East Coast death camp, Charlotte. You can trust the water.”
Was it the water I didn’t trust or the people serving it to me?
“You’re fine. Open your eyes.” After a few seconds, she added, “Say something.”
I rubbed my face. “Yeah. I’m good. Sorry.” A couple of months after the blast, the largest survivor camp on the East Coast managed to “purify” a batch of water. On shower day, the purified water was made toxic when it mixed with the post-blast chemicals lingering on survivors’ skin. The decision makers chose resources over compassion. No resources were to be wasted comforting the victims. In less than a week, thousands perished. They were accused of poisoning survivors as a means of population control. Distrust prevailed.
“Happens to all of us sometimes. You have eight minutes left. You’d have an hour if it were up to me.”
I rejoiced at avoiding death once more by washing my hair three times. When Brenda called “time’s up!” I dressed in the sand colored work shirt and cargo pants she had provided along with clean socks and black boots. “Those are made of some Kevlar blend. Super extended warranty.” She chuckled and broke into a trot. “We’re headed to medical. I may be short but I’m fast. Try to keep up.”
I jogged after her.
“Double shot of electrolytes fixed you right up. We’ve all had to learn to trust the water, Charlotte.”
“If the people in here have enough water to shower, why aren’t they sharing with the workers? People are dying of dehydration every day. We’re all hungry, thirsty, sleep deprived, and care barely breathe.”
“It’s a new era but some things never change. Here’s my advice, for what is worth.” Her expression of admonishment was a dead ringer for my case worker’s when I confessed, I may not be strong enough to stay clean. “Asking too any questions invites trouble. I’ve seen it happen.” She lowered her voice. “I’m aware of how lucky I am to have this position and how precarious it is. My advice to you: put on your ‘yessir’ face if you want to live.”
I bristled at her placating smirk. “That a threat?”
“Look, I don’t know if you’ve drawn the shortest straw or the longest. I am telling you that once you walk through this door, your compliance is mandatory. If you decline to cooperate, they will throw you Outside.” She pointed at the wall that separated us from the wilderness beyond. “And there is no hope out there.” She held my gaze for a moment then turned on her heel. The lecture was over. She waved her wrist in front of the gray security pad and the door slid open.
Exile to The Great Out-There was worse than a death sentence. If I chose not to cooperate, I could not honor my promise to help the other workers. I was no help to anyone dead. An electronic voice said, “Door will automatically close in five seconds.” I followed Brenda through the door, and it snapped closed behind me.
A sea of gurneys and lonely IV poles lined the floor of a large, enclosed structure. Clear plastic covered the floor. I could just make out a figure painted on wood: a panther in mid leap. Overhead, basketball goals were retracted against the steel rafters. People walked around in clean scrubs with quick purpose. No problem if you’re fed, hydrated, and not lugging around an O2 tank. A groan of agony followed by a persistent chime led to the appearance of a woman in gray scrubs. She sprinted in unfathomably white nurse clogs that made sticky noises with every step. She disappeared behind a faded blue partition.
“Is this the emergency room?” I tried not to sound sarcastic.
Before Brenda could answer, from behind the curtain a wet, sloppy cough caused alarms to blare with greater urgency. Whatever was back there sounded like a walrus trapped beneath a hippo. Its primal cries were punctuated by an explosive splatter. I told myself it was a water grenade filled with red paint. That almost worked until the offensive aroma of warm copper and acidic bile filled my nostrils. My sensitivity to odor was strong. I was accustomed to one scent: my recycled breath. I told my gag reflex to stand down. More splatter. Two more people in white shoes jogged to the scene. All those white shoes were destined for the contaminated items bin.
My knees wobbled and I felt Brenda grip my elbow. “Let’s keep moving.”
“I hate hospitals.”
“Me too. I was going to be an ENT not a post-apocalyptic trauma surgeon. Lucky for this place, I adapted.”
“What was that? Is that…normal?”
She sighed and smiled. “I’ve missed that word.” The thing in her wrist granted us access to another passageway. The chaotic noises were severed by the door closing behind us. I walked backwards, admiring the trio of mini surgical suites.
“They did everything they could to save him. They don’t usually blow supplies on terminals.”
“Was he someone special?”
Her voice was flat with irreverence. “How special can anyone be, right?”
“Where did all of this technology come from?”
“Corporate ventures funded by secret government grants. Mix in some solar power enthusiasts, relief organizations, and a gaggle of computer nerds.” She shook her head. “Doomsday preppers. Who knew? Don’t get it wrong. I am stunned by the advanced technology created from our tax dollars, but this set up is as powerful as it is unreliable.”
“Then why not help the workers?” I bumped into an exam table. The clang of metal in the enclosed space jolted me.
“Take your best guess and go with that. This has been a helluva day for you, and it ain’t over yet. Up onto the table, Charlotte. Relax.” She showed the inside of her wrist. Just beneath the skin was a seed sized bump. “First, we’re going to fit you with a security chip. Everyone in the Umbrella buildings has one.”
Umbrella. The ordinary word was had significant meaning to me.
“It’s straightforward, like chipping the family pet. There are no glossy informational packets or forms to sign. You gave consent when you accepted the Major’s offer. Next, I’ll fit you with a permanent port- Major’s orders. It’s necessary to make the journey to Mt. Hammersley.”
“A permanent what?”
Brenda took my left wrist and exposed my arm. I watched her plump cheeks droop into a frown. “What do we have here?”
“What does it look like?” I flinched and tried to pull my arm away from her. She clicked her tongue but retained her grip. “As if you haven’t been through enough,” she whispered. “Take off your shirt, kiddo.”
Once again, I was under scrutiny. I was reminded of an unpleasant winter day that involved a judge and my uncle and court mandated rehab.
Is this what you’re going to do with your life, Charlotte, take everything your parents worked for and shove it into your veins? Their deaths were a tragic accident but what you’ve done to yourself is inexcusable. Life is about choices. Choose to go in there and get better, or choose to stick needles in your arm, and die a sad, lonely death. You have thrown away any chance of having a stake in the company, I’ll see to that.
“You know I’m not using anymore, right? It’s not like there’s smack dealer in the work camp.”
Her eyebrows went up. “Cute. I don’t have to tell you that IV drug use damages your blood vessels…among other things.”
“Whatever. It’s in the past along with my iPhone and my IKEA furniture.”
She put on gloves and began examining the inside of my arm with her thumb. Purple dots and stringy white scars were permanent souvenirs from a dark past. “I have to find a vein healthy enough for a port.” She withdrew a thick square of gauze from a service cart next to the bed and. “Put this over your mouth.”
In the old days, I might have wasted precious time protesting and asking questions. Since the blast, when someone told me to cover my mouth, I did so without question. The gauze was damp. Fatigue began to swallow me. It was instant and powerful. I felt my hand slide away from my face as I slumped forward. I began to laugh. Hearing myself laugh for the first time in eons caused me to laugh more. Brenda’s gentle hands guided me back until my head met with a pillow. “So soft.”
“I thought you might enjoy that. You won’t feel a thing, and it isn’t habit forming.”
I had requested sleep and Brenda had delivered. I had not talked to anyone about my substance issues since the blast which could account for the nightmare sprint through my detox days. It was not as though relief workers were handing out methadone though I never stopped praying for it. Fevers and night sweats dehydrated me further. I was dismissed as another victim of radiation sickness or kidney failure. Sick and injured people were a drain on limited resources. I was forced to ride the dehydration hallucination train for a while without pharmaceutical relief. Those days, I would shut my eyes and convince myself that I was high and needed to come down, and back to the present because it was my turn to switch out my O2 tank and drink a coveted four ounces of water.
Withdrawal was aggressive and threatened to get the best of me. Those days I was desperate for relief. I wanted to get high more than I wanted a bottle of water and a hot meal. On the bright side, the prolonged absence of harmful drugs from my system reopened the route to my rational mind. None of us knew where we were or what day it was, or when the authorities would announce our rations had run out. I knew one thing: I was done feeling that way. If I could survive being blasted to a Mad Max Stone Age, I could survive this.
I allowed my rational mind to assume management of my failing mental organization. Heroin was a Dodo bird riding a pterodactyl flying over Atlantis: a complete fantasy. The H in Heroin is for Hopeless. My sponsor wanted to print it on t-shirts and give them away at meetings, as though any of us wanted to advertise that we were recovering heroin addicts.
As the only child of wealthy parents, I was either indulged, dismissed, or micromanaged. When I was ten, my grandmother died. My father called me into his office to have stern words with me. “GG’s gone which means she is no longer a part of your reality, Charlotte. You are so sad for GG that you made yourself sick and missed school. You left your reality. But you don’t feel any better, do you? You’re still sad, and you missed your history test. He frowned and pointed to the red, black, and blue fuzzy pajamas I had worn for two days. They were the last gift GG had given to me. “I like dragons, too. We both know they aren’t real. Neither of us will never see one, never touch one. Since you have accepted that, you are capable of accepting that GG is gone, and you will never see her again.”
I nodded with trademark obedience.
“Accept the truth it won’t make you sad anymore.” There was no anger in his voice, but I felt wounded. He exhaled and stood. “It’s time for you to study. Your mother has arranged with your teacher to take a make-up test tomorrow. I expect a hundred from you. You’ve had an extra day to prepare.”
He was dismissing me, but I was too sad to move. “I don’t want to live in a world without,” my throat tightened, and tears flooded my eyes, “hope. She was your mother. It’s like you don’t even care!”
He exhaled like an angry bull. “This is what I’m talking about, Charlotte. You must take control of your feelings and stop allowing them to run your life. GG was one of a kind. We all loved her.” He rose from his desk and pointed at me. “But she is never coming back. You must accept your reality. Anything else is a lie. The truth is all we have.” My father was a wise man, but he gave me too much credit, and I had too much pride to ask for further explanation. Asking meant admitting that I was too dim to grasp his advice. Unfortunately, his wisdom was lost on me for years.
I replayed the scene in my head and replaced longing for GG with heroin addiction. I mentally relived the edited scene to the point of obsession. I exhausted every imaginable scenario of “if there were heroin, how could I get it? And if I got it, would I collapse under its giant, needy fist?” Like all the survivors, I longed to be numb from the pain of this wasteland, but I stopped wasting my time craving something that wasn’t even real. It wasn’t the heroin I craved, it was escape. I found my remedy in a cocktail of ambition, rage, and hope.
Major Hart’s voice boomed with authority and I was ripped from my dream. “Nod if you can hear me.”
The Major offered an arm to help me sit up. I winced in preparation for pain but felt none. “The procedures were successful. You have a security chip and a permanent port for IV fluids. You must adhere to the dosing schedule. Your life depends on it. Nod if you understand.”
I nodded again though I had a mounting stack of questions.
“The Doc tells me you’re a recovering drug addict.”
Brenda’s face came into focus. She was biting her lip.
“Ever heard of confidentiality?” My vocal cords no longer stuck together when I talked.
She chuckled. “You’re joking, right?”
She had made a good call by telling the Major. “I wouldn’t want a junkie on my team because I used to be a junkie.”
“Do I have your word that it’s not going to be an issue?” He was a one-man blockade.
I remembered Brenda’s warning. “Yes, sir. I learned to live without drugs a long time ago but here’s what no one can live without,” I counted on two fingers. “Water and oxygen.”
Major Hart’s posture relaxed. “We’re running low on safe water for the camp. Your mission is water. We have another team tackling air quality.” He shoved a tablet into my personal space. “Your team has been pre-selected. The Doc will brief you on using the IV hydration system and the schedule.”
“I’ll do a rundown on all the items in the medical kit you’ll be carrying. Let’s see your wrist.”
I offered my gauze wrapped left wrist to Brenda. She cut away the bandage and examined my wrist. She touched the newly implanted “seed” and I jumped. “Does that hurt?”
“No, it’s just creepy as hell.”
“Agreed. The Major is going to run a test scan.”
He removed a handheld device from his cargo pants and held it next to my wrist. There was a pleasant chime. He let go of my wrist. At the same time, there was a hysterical blast of horns and sirens. I covered my ears and blocked out memories of car alarms. Every car in the city had blinked and beeped. It was the most obnoxious sound I had ever heard. There had been a flash in the sky and the world went mute. This did not feel so different.
If there was a fire, no one appeared to be fleeing. Brenda and Major Hart stood at attention when an automated voice burst through the ceilings and walls. “Emergency water rationing now in effect for all Umbrella personnel.”
There was that word again. No. Way.
“All personnel, report to dispensary to receive hydration packs.” An unpleasant chime gonged before the voice returned with another announcement. “Procedure 7323. Codename: DDTW, effective immediately. All acknowledge.”
I watched in wonder as Brenda and the Major closed their eyes and brought their wrist implants to their lips. They mumbled something indiscernible.
“The Umbrella Corporation thanks you for your cooperation.”
I could not make sense of what I had just witnessed.
Brenda exhaled then put her smile in place. “Let me show you how the port works. We already know you aren’t afraid of needles.” She smiled. “Too soon?”
“We’re out of time.” Major Hart was suddenly a bag of microwave popcorn. “Doc, you’re going to have to go with her. There’s no other option.”
Brenda’s mouth went slack for a beat then she recovered. “You’re ordering me to go on a potentially fatal mission? I’m your wife!” She was short and terrifying.
Major Heart widened his stance and his voice dropped. Their whisper battle escalated. “If something goes wrong, the asset must be protected.”
“The asset,” she said it like it was sour in her mouth, “is better off with a bodyguard. If protecting the asset is mission critical, send the soldiers, not your wife who is also one of the camp’s only physicians.” She raised her arms then dropped them. “Cut the crap. There’s something you want me to do. Am I right? Well,” she jammed her fists into her hips, “you can forget it.” She snatched the large green duffel off a nearby chair and hurled it at the Major.
“You’re going to give up now?”
“I am not giving up!” Brenda hissed. “I’m tired of you taking advantage of your power. Lucky for you, I care about the greater good.” She did not wait for Major Husband’s rebuttal. With unmatched female rebellion, she snapped back the blue curtain. “Come on, kid. Time to meet the team.”
Maybe she was preoccupied with her anger, but I had just woken up from surgery five minutes ago and now I had at least ninety-nine questions. Without looking back, she groaned, “You’re younger and taller. Try to keep up.” Maybe she had stopped caring.
She led me out of the sterile surfaces of the medical unit, around a corner to a dank smelling hall. The odor gagged me. “I’m feeling a little sick.” I covered my mouth. My port incision began to ache. My skin grew slick with sweat. I missed my respirator.
“You look like you’re in the middle of a panic attack. Listen, I won’t sugar coat it: this mission is dangerous. Everything in The Outside is. But we’ll keep you as safe as we can. Now come over here and test out your implant.”
“Slow down for a second.” I leaned forward in an effort to regulate my breathing. “What is procedure 7323? What does DDTW stand for? Is this work camp being run by Umbrella Corp, and why did you and the Major call me ‘the asset’? I deserve to know what’s happening.” I stood erect and continued to cover my mouth. I was aware of it and it felt a little off to be comforted by this post-blast habit.
The ridges around her mouth told me that Brenda was a former smoker, and that I was swimming close to an irritable shark. “You’d do well to heed my advice in these situations, Charlotte. Drop it and keep moving.”
“I’m not going on any suicide mission, ok?” I yelled through my hand. “Tell me what it all means?”
“Survivors always say stuff like that.” She rolled her eyes and the hopeless romance of it all. “It means Don’t Drink the Water. Still pissed that we didn’t share that all that yummy water the workers? Now, come over here and open the door.” Her smile was terrifying, but her voice and body language compelled me into submission. She gestured for me to remove my hand from my mouth. When I did, she took my wrist with impressive speed and waved it in front of the security pad. The door slid open as a synthetic feminine voice spoke, “Access granted.”
“You’re like a sitcom mom in a crossover horror movie.”
She cackled. “Now that’s the coolest thing anyone has said about me in a long time. Don’t dawdle. This door only stays open for ten seconds. You’ll be stuck on this side for two minutes if you miss it.” She stepped through. I followed and felt the brisk air off the door as it slid closed behind me. “Added security measure.”
The room we had stepped into appeared to be a high school cafeteria minus the food or even the aromas of food. Rows of bleacher seat tables were separated by a wide aisle. Three men sat at a table to the left. “Meet the team.”
“Major Heart said I was picking my team.” I held back a nervous laugh.
Brenda jumped down my throat before my chuckle at the absurdity of such a responsibility escaped. “Let’s try this. After I introduce you to the team handpicked by Major Heart, you can introduce us to your team.”
I wanted to know if Brenda was always like this, all misplaced maternal animosity and control issues but decided to skip it lest I be met with further animosity. I liked her. “Relax. I know a good idea when I see one.”
“If only we could all say that.” She turned and gestured to a man whose face I knew but had never met. “Charlotte, meet Captain Jayce Kim. He is head of security and the team leader.”
“Call me whatever you want but I answer to Captain and Sir.” He thrust a tan, muscled arm toward me and smiled. The captain was famous in my camp. I wanted to tell him that he looked better in person. I knew nothing of Korean mythology but if there was a warrior god, the Captain was his descendant.
He squeezed my hand, “Nice to meet you, Charlotte. After your performance yesterday, The Major selected you to lead a team of workers. Your mission has since changed. I know you’ll agree that it is in everyone’s best interest to leave this part to the most qualified.”
“Agreed.” I caught myself scrutinizing this folk hero. When I arrived in this camp nine months ago, it did not take long to recognize there was a strict division of opinion about Jayce’s integrity. Some believed he was an enforcer for the man, responsible for keeping maintaining order through fear. To some, he was a traitor to his own people; to others, he was a post-blast Robin Hood bent improving conditions in the camps by funneling in extras from the compound. Santa Claus or The Grim Reaper, a face-to-face might kill the magic, or you. He was elevated to hero status in my eyes when he ordered paper supplies and writing instruments be given to the workers. We need an outlet. We could not speak but needed to express ourselves and build bonds with one another. It did not take long for us to start passing notes to each other like a bunch of twelve year-olds in detention, and it had given us hope.
A second man dressed in splotchy gray and blue camo stood and introduced himself. “Orlando. Mechanic and technician. Second in command.” He was armed and then some. He stood there like a human fortress not shaking my hand.
The last man stepped forward. He was thinner than the warrior and the tank, but I suspected he could outrun both of them. “Raj. Resident science nerd. I hold degrees in Environmental Studies, Biochemistry, and was completing my doctorate at Berkeley,” he raised his eyebrows as though we were about to share a moment, “when the blast blew us back to the stone age.”
I nodded and shook his hand. “Nice to meet you all. Things move a lot faster here than in the camps. I still don’t understand how I can help.”
An earsplitting alarm tore through the compound. Their male version of Siri made another announcement. “Evacuation protocol ten twenty-two. All acknowledge.” An icy current of electricity traveled from my brain to the implant in my wrist. I watched as everyone held their wrists to their mouths muttering responses. I lifted my wrist to my mouth. “What am I supposed to say?”
The same pleasant baritone answered from within my head, “State your name and that you acknowledge. You have five seconds.”
“My name is Charlotte.” My tongue ceased. It had been months since I had spoken my name, maybe longer. There was more than one reason for that. I felt eyes boring into my back. “Charlotte Adair, and I don’t understand my mission or the protocol.”
Raj’s accent had morphed from polite to agitated. “We’re under attack. The refugees are demanding shelter from the dust monsoons.”
Alarms, toxic dust storms, electrical implants, armed guards, and riots: I was a deer in headlights.
Raj’s words popped with anxiety. “If we don’t leave now, we aren’t getting out.”
The door that had threatened to snap shut on me a moment ago shielded the cafeteria from an explosion of noise on the other side.
I jumped. “What’s happening?”
Orlando seemed challenged by verbal expression, “Lockdown.”
“I’ve got her.” Jayce gripped me by the elbow, and we were sprinting through the cafeteria.
Brenda screeched and ran after us, retaining her title of short but fast. “Wait! She hasn’t been briefed. The Major has her duffel. Stop running!” She was short of breath from the run but still able to shout at the captain.
We stopped running. “I’ll take care of it.”
“She doesn’t understand her mission or the kits inside her bag. She doesn’t even know the VIP expired a few hours ago.” Brenda’s words hissed from her mouth like an unmanned firehose. “Things are about to get ugly. We were lucky to find her when we did, and thank God, she’s healthier than most. That’s why I know you’ll understand that I’m needed here.”
With less warning than a hornet attack, I felt a sharp sting in the back of my left arm. “She’ll be more manageable this way.” My knees buckled under the weight of whatever sedative Sitcom Mom had just introduced to my system.
Jayce threw my limp but conscious body over his shoulder. I had no means of protest. “Good luck getting through that door, Doc. Time to move, people.” I kicked a heroin habit during a neutron bomb apocalypse. If I wanted to survive a suicide mission in The Outside, I knew not to argue with the head of security during a lockdown. Not that I could have. My muscle control was nonexistent, yet I was not numb, and who knew more about numb than I?
My face beat a rhythm against his back as he ran down the aisle and through the next set of doors. The team stalled when we reached the terminus of a window enclosed tunnel that appeared too vulnerable for my taste. I balled up all my energy and managed to groan when I saw a curtain of rusty clouds sweep across the work camps.
“I don’t know if you can hear me, but I hope you can. We all want to live through this. That means you do whatever I say. If we don’t succeed, we all die. No selfish actions. Our team is one machine.”
I grunted and flicked my ankle.
“Good.” Though he never raised his voice, it rolled like thunder commanding the mountains to rise. “The Asset is on board. Greater good, everybody. It’s all on us. Masks and O2. Now.”
Wait. I don’t have a mask. No one heard me. I tried to blink but I had lost my ability to do so. My faculties were diminishing at a terrifying rate. Physical helplessness created a spark of panic in my sluggish brain. Orlando looked like an angry refrigerator as he yanked the red lever and breached the airlock. An interior security alarm sounded.
Jayce swung around. With that final disorienting movement, I lost my ability to remain conscious. My eyelids slammed shut which left more room in my mind to panic. Oh God, my mask. I don’t have my mask. Please, someone give me a mask! I screamed inside of my head. They can’t be this stupid. I’ll be dead before that storm blows over. Then, what, geniuses?
“Did you hear that?”
Jayce halted abruptly which caused me to bite my tongue. I wanted to cry out but could not manage it.
“That. Did you hear that? Sounds like,” Raj’s voice was close to my face, “whimpering.” He was not wearing a mask. “Captain, she’s barely breathing! What did Brenda give her?”
“Even if I knew, what the hell are we going to do about it now? Get her a mask and an O2 tank.” My consciousness flickered when I felt the familiar outline of a respirator being slipped over my face and the hiss of O2. My body resumed its slow and shallow breathing pattern.
Nothing could have prepared me for the noise of a dust monsoon. Louder than the parking garage I owned, if every vehicle on every level laid on its horn in synchronized discord. A thousand chainsaws made of toxic wind and debris carved into the ravaged desert of wherever the hell we were. The hurricane of sediment was the fastest moving migration on the planet.
I fought to remain conscious.
My brain flinched at screams and violent blasts though my limbs and voice remained paralyzed. I felt like a rabbit being dropped from off a building and my stomach threatened to heave. The Captain commanded me to stand. To our mutual regret, I was still sedated. Strong arms hooked on either side of me. My head flopped forward. I risked opening my eyes and recognized the outline of my new boots carving a path through charred earth.
“If this storm doesn’t wipe out the camp,” Kim’s voice was a whisper lost in a vacuum, “the riots will. We’re on our own.”
The distinct clicking sound of a door nudged my brain to stay alert. The hurricane of dirt reminded me of the freight trains that ran by my parking garage late at night. However, in this desert, the angry roar came from all directions. When we were on the other side of that door, Captain Kim ordered the person on the opposite side of me to throw my body in the backseat. There is a sentence no one wants to hear. It had provided a clue, though. It was rumored in the camps that the compound had hidden solar powered vehicles in The Outside, invulnerable to the EMP that had wiped the world’s technology. There was a ding, followed by a sudden jolt. We were moving.
A fresh blast of that sweet recycled air removed much of the dust from my face. The air was breathable, but the drawback was it had caused dust to accumulate in my eyelashes. I needed to wipe my eyes, but my hands were not cooperating.
“How much do you think she knows?”
Orlando spoke up. “Captain, why is this guy always asking questions? Are you a scientist or a reporter?”
“Stand down. He can ask all the questions he wants. We aren’t obliged to answer.”
Raj asked another question in his distinct pronunciation of words. “Do you think she knows her uncle has died?”
“Only one way to find out. You awake yet, Charlotte? We have some life altering news for you.” Judging from his tone, the Captain was not wasting any tears on the death of their atrocious leader.
I never expected to shed tears for my uncle, but they came anyway. Too many tears; more than he deserved. His death meant I was alone in this godforsaken dust world, the only surviving member of my family. Someone shoved my back with enough force to smash my respirator into the fabric covered seat.
“She’s still out,” Orlando mumbled.
“How much longer is she going to be out? She needs to be rehydrated or she will never survive the trek. Not to mention she has not been briefed on the mission.” Raj was flustered.
“It shouldn’t be much longer,” the Captain answered.
“If she isn’t awake by the time we reach-,” Raj’s voice was pitchy with worry.
“Relax, PhD, you aren’t commanding this mission.” The Captain’s voice dropped, “Remember, the goal is compliance. If she won’t cooperate, I am authorized to apply force. Hopefully it won’t come to that. Either way… Greater Good.” Efficient, confident, and detached.
Raj and Orlando echoed what seemed to be their team manta: Greater Good. I agreed with the concept, but history had proven too often that the ends don’t justify the means.
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“Working For H2O”, Part 1 and Part 2 written by Sarah Faith: https://www.facebook.com/SarahFaithLarsen
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Now that we are coming out of the dark, I’ll leave you with a little light…
Psalm 37:8 = Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil.
And a final thought. Your faith can move mountains and your doubt can create them.
I’m Darren Marlar. Thanks for joining me in the Weird Darkness.