Fish and Cherries Productions

Creative content from a mad mind.


Chapter 1

Leo Bryce made his way to the top of the Sears Tower, his feet trembling on every step. Reaching the top, he looked out into the setting sun and over the grand city, listening to all its sounds.

Taking a deep breath, he made his way to the edge of the roof. Was this how everyone felt before things like this: nervous, unsure, or even doubtful? Did it always feel like the butterflies in their stomachs had turned into carnivorous bats? Well, it was kind of hard to ask those people, wasn’t it?

He came to the edge and took a long look down all 1,451 feet of the building. He felt his chest pulsating rapidly, as if it was trying to backpedal his body away from the edge. But he was set, and in one single moment, he would be going where all of his money couldn’t help him.

Closing his eyes, he put one foot over the edge and let himself fall.


Chapter 1

December 20th, 2012, 6:31 PM EST

If studying is a student struggling in economics could be described as difficult, then Suzanne Dearling was gladly willing to testify that tutoring such students was just as difficult. It had been more than an hour and a half in this session and if Chris had made any progress in understanding the concepts of macroeconomics, it was almost negligible. Suzanne’s fingertips had become very sore from massaging the scalp next to her right temple, her light brown hair twisting around her fingers as they moved in circles across the scalp. Maybe if she was lucky, she would get extra for going overtime. And while I’m at it, she thought, the headlights on my car will fix themselves.

After another minute had passed of Chris trying to put the fundamentals into practice yet again, Suzanne shook her and put her hand down on the table. “Okay, Chris,” she said with a sigh, which caused her student to look up from his work. Quickly, she stole a glance at what he was writing down. She couldn’t exactly tell what he was trying to accomplish with the numbers on his scratch paper, but judging from the fact that he tried to use the quadratic formula to get there, it was probably wrong. “I think it’s time we called it a day.”

“You sure?” Chris replied in a husky voice. He looked more than a little crestfallen.

“Trust me,” she said, trying to be polite, “you’ve… taken a lot in for one day. It’s better just to sleep on it and let your brain digest the material.”

“But you’ve just been explaining the same concept in different ways every time I get it wrong,” Chris said slowly, raising an eyebrow. Suzanne opened her mouth to reply, but the sizable lump she felt in her throat prevented her from replying. She averted her gaze to the side guiltily, not wanting to bruise the poor boy’s feelings. “You’ve tried everything on me, haven’t you?” he said, his voice slightly muted.

She let out a long sigh. It was true, she had indeed tried every method she knew on Chris, even the ones that she had been able to teach children with. Nothing was working here. Honestly, it was down heartening for the both of them and frustrating for Suzanne in that she could not crack this case.

“Look,” she said frankly, “if I were any other tutor, I would tell you to throw in your cards and change your major. But you really want to go through with this, so just look over your notes for the next week and we’ll see where we are. Just…” Looking through the pages between them, she took out all of the “misinformed pages” and held them up. “…not these ones.”

Smiling a bit, Chris nodded and started gathering up his notes. Suzanne closed her eyes and leaned back in the stiff-backed wooden chair. She hadn’t noticed how stuffy it had gotten in the room, though it was only slightly bigger than a personal office. Oh well, she wouldn’t have to deal with it for a while, since she didn’t have another week, what with Christmas coming. Unfortunately, that meant no income for a week.

“So are you going partying tonight?”

The question snapped her out of her thoughts. Chris was standing by the door, looking back at her. “My family’s actually not coming for two more days,” she said. “Besides, none of my other friends are throwing holiday parties, so I’ve got the night to myself.”

“Actually,” Chris replied, “I meant if you were going to an end of the world party.”

She blinked for a moment, her mind scratching around the cracks of her skull for any idea of what he was talking about. “Did… we declare war on another country?” She felt a little stupid for asking, but she honestly had no idea what he was talking about.

“You know what tomorrow’s date is, right?” Chris asked with a cocked eyebrow.

It only took a second for her mind to kick into gear. She’d forgotten all about that Mayan calendar crap, but what could she really expect? She had way too much to worry about which cracked out doomsday theory was right, so if a bunch of college kids wanted to drink until the earth was supposed to open under them, fine with them. But at 31 years, her days of partying over crazy stuff like that… never actually started, so she supposed that she didn’t have to worry about temptations like that. She answered Chris merely with a look, a cocked eyebrow and a bemused grimace, that he seemed to understand.

As Chris left, she began cleaning up the room, putting back everything that she had taken out to help with the lesson. Despite its size, it was actually a very nice room that West Virginia Northern Community College had made available for the tutors in the area. Even the table was a particularly well-polished piece of cherry wood that she didn’t see in most college rooms. Normally she would make a comment about misspent education funds, but she didn’t believe in biting the hand that generously gave up valuable space to someone who wasn’t even an alumna.

As she finished packing everything up, she took a seat and let her mind wander all around through the various topics floating in her mind. Occasionally, it flitted away to wonder if there really was going to be an apocalypse tomorrow and if it would actually reach the East Coast, but then she moved to more important, and sane, topics.

One that seemed the most prominent was the sheer cruelty of the fact that Chris had to spend his Christmas break studying for a subject that was clearly making him suffer. All for… what was this for again? An entrance exam, that’s right. She felt silly for having forgotten something that he had told her a few weeks ago. If she had more heart, or lacked it, she would have told him to give up and find something else to study that didn’t make him sweat so much. But Chris wanted to please his father and that meant becoming a political adviser like him, and no matter how good with people he was, that job required a degree in economics. And as much as she hated to sound like a petulant child, that just wasn’t fair. Hell, her own degrees in economics hadn’t even gotten her anywhere in this economy. If there justice in that, she sure as hell couldn’t see it…

Her reverie came to an abrupt end when she glanced up at the clock and noticed that it was six minutes to seven. Overcoming the shock rather quickly, she grabbed her winter coat and put it on hastily. Where had all the time gone? All the time she had been sitting there, she could have noticed how dark it was getting. Unfortunately, this also meant that she had just missed the bus she needed to catch, so she had to wait around for goodness-knew-how long for the next bus. Oh well, it beat paying an arm and a leg for a cab. She hurried out into the winter cold, feeling it bite against her cheeks and using as an excuse to mutter obscenities at those louses who had cooked up this crazy end-of-the-world nonsense. Well, at least it would be over quickly tomorrow and she’d never have to worry about thoughts like that again.

If only she knew what was coming the next morning…


December 20th, 4:57 PM PST


Jellybeans were small, colorful and numerous, much like the bits of fuzz that Christopher Estévez had just finished sweeping out from under his desk and was now carrying down to the trash chute on the first floor. He was sure that the Portland sanitation crews wouldn’t mind his contribution of miscellaneous lint to their growing heaps of trash, so he made the trip very briskly. On his way there, he stopped by the nearest vending machine and took a peek through the glass. Nope, no jellybeans. And on the subject of brightly colored sweets, they were out of Skittles.

Now that he thought about it, as he dumped his trash down the chute, letting the pail go with it, it seemed very odd that such a well-funded corporation had run out of some of its sweet confections. Did the great Leo Bryce decide that he needed to pull money out of the vending machine funds to put more into the plastics division? Bryce’s chain of conglomerates was built on plastic production, he didn’t need to invest more into it. Or perhaps this was some subtle way of tricking the employees into saving money for taxes or something like that. Something about this smelled funny…

As he began the trek back to his office, he came to a halt as he noticed a nearby fire alarm switch. He could picture Bryce’s head in place of it, a twenty-nine-year-old pretty boy with auburn hair and greenish-gray eyes, complete with a tan complexion and a face to make teen girls squeal. It was kind of a contrast to Christopher, who had a much more chiseled frame for his face, blue eyes and brown hair that was tinted with gray. He continued to imagine the face there on the wall, imagining him with his smug attitude as he told him that he should “leave the budget to the professionals.” He could feel his insides turning at these remarks, gnawing at his brain like a pair of weasels with rotted teeth.

“Hey,” he said, taking a step towards the face, “I get it. You think you’re the big man around here. Just because you own the place, you can kick the idea cap off my head. Well, let me tell you, the cap stays on.” A few more steps closer. It felt good to stick it to the man. “It stays glued to my skull and if you so much as reach for it, I’ll put your whole limb into my pencil sharpener. And believe me, I will make it fit.”

He stood no more than three feet away from his boss’ face, staring it down as an invigorated feeling washed through him. Suddenly, he heard a small cough nearby. He looked around to see about a dozen people staring him with expressions of confusion, horror and perplexion. A young girl with brown pigtails who looked no more than five slid behind the leg of what looked like her father, peaking out at the sight before her. It took him a moment to realize what had just happened. Feeling a bit put off, he took one last look at the fire alarm and made his way towards the elevator.

“Are all grown-ups that weird when they get old, Dad?” he heard the little girl say.

“Alice, he can hear you,” he heard a man reply before he got out of earshot.

Walking into the elevator, it did occur to him that the sight of a well-built man standing over six feet threatening a fire alarm would be enough to make any normal person uncomfortable. He shrugged it off as he pushed the button for the seventh floor, deciding that spending more time in his office would be healthy for some reason. There was a phrase involving “health and home,” after all, so an office should apply as well.

It was just after the elevator passed the third floor that he remembered that someone wanted to see him. It took him a moment, but he remembered where they were at that time, so he quickly hit the call for the fifth floor just in time. As the doors opened, he walked past a man with a large file in his hand who looked incredibly stressed. He made his way past Christopher into the elevator and just before the doors closed, he heard the man swear loudly, presumably noticing that he was making an unexpected stop along the way to wherever he was going.

Well, maybe he was destined to get on an elevator that would stop on the seventh floor. Maybe the girl of his dreams would get on with him at that time. Maybe he would break wind just in time to ward off the person who would ruin his life. Perhaps we would drop something on that floor to remind someone else that they hadn’t taken their kids to the zoo in ages and that… Oh, he thought as he came face-to-frame of a door that led to a conference room. I’m here.

He pushed the door open to find himself staring in at a large group of people, all looking incredible in their suits. As he contemplated all the other different synonyms for “good-looking,” he scanned the room to find Cheryl, a woman in her fifties who couldn’t have looked more average than if she dressed in polka dots. Cheryl, at the moment, was staring back at him with a look of horror mixed with livid fury. The other people in the room simply looked confused.

“Mr. Estévez,” Cheryl said as she sounded desperate for self-control, “what are you doing here?”

“Cheryl,” he said, “I remembered that you wanted to speak to me today. You remember that, right?”

“Yes,” she replied through gritted teeth. “I also remember that I wanted to meet with you fifteen minutes ago! Remember that?! I was supposed to discuss some matters with you before the shareholders came for inspection! See them!?” she yelled when Chris tilted his head with confusion. “These men are the shareholders!”

Ah, I see, he thought. These are people we should be making a good impression on. Looking everyone in the eye, he waved at them casually. “A pleasure,” he said, before looking at a short, very thin man with a particularly well-furnished suit. “You, sir, have a very sharp suit.”

The man, for some reason, shifted nervously in place as he said, “Thank you, sir.”

Doesn’t look like I’ve made my impression good enough. Let’s step it up a bit. “You know what would make that suit even sharper?” he continued. The man shook his head. “If you took a big old claymore and strapped it to your tie. Just let it hang down there. Or even better, if your suit jacket was built like an iron maiden. That’d be a real sharp suit there.” He grinned at the man, who stared back with an absolutely bewildered expression.

“Perhaps we should talk another time…” Cheryl said, growing paler by the second. Maybe she was getting sick. “Mr. Hemo, I apologize for his behavior. He’s a little off, that’s all.”

“Don’t worry,” the man called Mr. Hemo replied, straightening his jacket cautiously. He had a soft, very calculating voice that showed that he was thinking everything over very carefully, kind of like a man who was sculpting a work of art with his very words. “I’m sure that he has some qualifications or he wouldn’t be here. After all, Mr. Bryce has to have some screening process for potential employees, right?”

“How would I know?” Christopher piped up. “He wasn’t there for my interview.”

Mr. Hemo stared at him for a moment before responding. “Naturally. I somehow doubt that he had even graduated high school when you got your job here. Just because he inherited the company, doesn’t mean that his presence is any less welcome than his parents, unless you have something different to say on the subject?”

Nerves started to take hold of Christopher as he saw everyone staring at him, waiting for the employee’s take on their boss. He thought carefully about his next words… Did one of them have Italian food recently? It looked like he had stained his suit with sauce. He should probably get that cleaned up before it became a permanent decoration on his shirt. Looking at everyone one more time, he took a deep breath before he spoke.

“I think Bryce should be killed.”

“Mr. Estévez!!” Cheryl shrieked at a pitch that even most wives who had just heard their husband call their mother a shaved cow couldn’t reach.

The others looked around at each other with intense discomfort, clearly unsure what to make of all this. Cheryl, on the hand, stomped across the room very quickly and attempted to push Christopher out the door. “That’s it,” she said in a quiet fury. “You’re gone. Get out now.”

“No worries,” he replied. “We can talk later and-”

“No,” she said, pushing him harder, “I mean get out of this building. I can’t handle any of this anymore. The late reports, the disturbances in hallways, the fact that you write your timesheet on a crossword puzzle, the tangents, oh God, the tangents, everything. I cannot think of a single thing you’ve done to help keep this company running, but now you embarrass it in front of the shareholders?! No, this is the one that breaks my back. Just pack up and leave!”

“Do most employees get fired when you’re having guests over?” another board member chimed in.

Cheryl whipped around and aimed a death glare right at the offending board member. “MR. ESTÈVEZ IS NOT MOST EMPLOYEES!” she bellowed as she continued to push hi out the door. Through all of this, Christopher had been reminiscing about a rollercoaster that this had reminded him of, but now he decided to plant his feet firmly on the ground, as the fear of unemployment had finally caught up with him.

Suddenly, like a lightning bolt shooting from his tailbone all the way through hiss spine, a stroke of genius hit him. “Wait a minute,” he said, turning around to face the shareholders. Pairs upon pairs of interested eyes turned towards him and even Cheryl hesitated for a moment. This was his big moment to get the company from successful to phenomenal. “I’ve got one word for you. Jellybeans.”

In that single instant, the room had become the largest collection of blank stares on the West Coast. All except Cheryl, whose entire body slumped as she put her right hand to her forehead. “You have until tomorrow to clean out your desk,” she said quietly.

Geez, Christopher thought as he left the room, thinking that perhaps he would sleep in his office tonight as a form of protest. From the way she was acting, it’s like she didn’t want anyone to notice her…

He didn’t realize that he had walked all the way to his office until he had opened the door. He looked around at everything sitting around in their spots: his clock, his collection of staplers, his company fountain pen that he had one in a raffle at last year’s Christmas party, and the sleeping bag that was rolled up in the corner, which he was planning on using tonight. He couldn’t remember where he had gotten it, nor could he remember why he had kept it in his office, but he still felt the melancholy welling up inside of him at the thought that it would have to be moved. Locking the door behind him, he strolled over to his phone line and disconnected it. He didn’t want any distractions, he just wanted time alone with his office.


December 21st, 7:01 AM, CST

The impromptu wake-up came roughly around the same time that his alarm would have normally gotten him up. Still, it was a bit of a dull shock to learn that the loud rock and roll he had been hearing for what felt like the longest time was not in his dream. Saving himself from rolling out of bed on accident, Will Heinrich slid out of bed and shuffled across the room. The sun had barely risen, but the gray light through the blinds was enough to illuminate his room.

His brain felt like a boulder as he grabbed his bathrobe that hung beside his dresser. He was wearing pajamas, of course, but it was still a Minneapolis winter and he wasn’t up for freezing so early in the morning. As he finished tying the knot around his waist, he could already feel his body heat starting to conduct around him like an electric blanket powering up very slowly.

With that, he walked out of his room towards the music. He supposed that he shouldn’t have been surprised, since the party was scheduled to go on far after midnight, but he assumed that they would have found something else to do by now, or at least put in a different CD. With only a few feet to go in the hallway, he stepped out into the war zone.

From the couch to the stovetop were no less than eleven pizza boxes strewn over everything, all bearing the logo for Sarpino’s Pizzeria. Both couches were crowded with people, all young men in their college years. The only exception was the young lady curled up at the foot of the couch, eyes closed and head resting on a pillow. It was a wonder that she could sleep, especially when there were two TVs playing loudly at the same time, an X-Box 360 hooked up to each of them and connected with an Ethernet cable to one another. He couldn’t tell what game they were playing, especially with each screen divided into four sections, but he was pretty sure of what happened when one of the screens flashed red after something exploded and the boys erupted with cheers and patted one of them jovially on the back.

“Having fun killing the aliens, Elliot?” he called to that boy.

His son rolled his eyes before turning towards him. He knew that fighting aliens wasn’t what he was actually doing, but it had been a misconception he had about those games in the beginning, so he decided to just roll with it for his own amusement.

“Sure, why not, Dad?” he retorted light-heartedly. “All you need to know is that I just pulled into – OH CRAP – third place behind Roger, but I think it’s a little late for – GET AWAY FROM THAT LASER, YOU CHEATING – sorry Dad, I’m just saying that I don’t think I can pull in front of everybody in time for – AND THAT’S GAME, EVERYBODY!”

Will was sure that all of this made sense to the boys, though he personally felt as though he had been thrust into a pop quiz that he had not studied for. Nevertheless, everyone else looked very pleased as they began chatting with one another and the screens changed into some kind of menu, or so he could gather. One of the boys yawned and stood up from the crowd. He was well built and about as tall as Elliot with short, messy blond hair and blue eyes, which had dark rings around them.

“Hey,” he called out to Elliot and his group, whose heads all turned towards him, “it’s been fun, but I think I’m going to have to call it here. Mr. Sandman’s beating me to death with his sack and all this gaming isn’t helping me any.”

There was a murmur of mock disappointment among the crowd before Elliot chimed in. “You sure, Adam? We haven’t even seen if volcanoes are going to pop up around us.”

“The volcanoes can wait until I’m done sleeping,” Adam replied. “If one of you guys could give me a lift home, that’d be great.”

“Aw, fine, be like that,” Elliot chuckled before looking around. “Hey Rich, you mind giving Adam a lift?”

A young man with light-brown curly hair stood up and led Adam to the door. Everyone said their good-byes, and as the two exited, everyone resumed their original chatter. Going up to his son, Will tapped him on the shoulder to get his attention. “I think that’s your cue to get your sister off the floor,” he said when Elliot looked up at him.

Standing up, Elliot walked over to the sleeper on the floor and lightly shook her by the shoulder. She stirred with a soft groan and, upon opening her eyes, looked up and around the room. Her eyes met her brother’s as she asked, “So are we all dead yet?”

“Nope,” Elliot said as he helped her to her feet. “Armageddon looks like it’s taking its sweet time getting to us. Who knows, maybe something’s starting in China and getting to us last.”

Michelle made an indistinct sound in the back of her throat as she slowly moved away from the crowd of boys. She looked as though she had had a very long nap as opposed to a good night’s sleep, moving slowly as if through a dense swamp. Will could imagine that their long hours of gaming had not helped her rest any. Grabbing a glass from a nearby cabinet, she filled it with some orange juice from the refrigerator and leaned against the counter as she sipped it. It took a few moments before she noticed her dad standing next to her.

“So did you have fun last night?” Will asked. “I’m surprised you were up so late.”

“I’m surprised that you weren’t,” she replied, taking another sip. She wasn’t much for beating around the bush about things and he could tell that this was no exception. “You can’t really sleep with all the flashing from the screens. The only way I could get any sleep at all was by turning towards the couch.”

“Michelle, you could have gone to bed, you know.”

“Not at that point. It felt like my muscles had already shut down and to be honest, it doesn’t feel like they’ve booted back up again.” She drained the glass and set it down, rubbing her eyes with her fingers. Her brow furrowed for a moment as she pinched the bridge of her nose and started taking slow breaths.

“You all right, hon?” he asked, concerned.

“Yeah, just…” She paused for a moment, her brow crinkling even further. “I think I need to lie down in my bed for a moment. I don’t… I… don’t worry about it, it’ll pass.” With that, she moved past Will and headed towards some stairs leading to the second floor. Will watched her with concern as she disappeared up the stairs, sincerely hoping she wasn’t coming down with the flu.

“What’s up with her?” Elliot asked from behind him.

Surprised, Will turned around, wondering how he got back there without him noticing. Perhaps the loud chatter drowned out the sounds of him approaching. “Not sure,” he replied as he situated himself to face his younger offspring. “It looks like she has a headache or something.”

Elliot nodded and slouched against the counter, looking a little upset and perhaps guilty. Will sighed and let him hang there for a moment. He knew that this was just a minor bit of inner wrestling that he was going through, since he probably felt a little responsible for her being down there, even though Michelle would have stayed regardless. He knew his children well and knew that no matter how bad they felt at the moment, they probably still had fun. Even after they had grown into adults, he still knew them better than they knew each other.

“So,” he said, deciding to interrupt Elliot’s reverie, “are you disappointed that the world hasn’t ended yet?”

Shrugging, Elliot replied, “I think we’ve suffered worse disappointments. The only downside is that I’ll have to go to work again.”

They both chuckled for a moment as Elliot began to yawn.

“It’s funny,” Will said. “I remember when you were young and you used to wait the entire night for Santa to come down the chimney. I don’t think I would have ever imagined you as an adult waiting the entire night for the world to end.”

“Hey,” replied Elliot, “we all need something to look forward to. Mine just happened to be a tad morbid.”

“And here I thought you left your morbid stage behind in high school,” Will sighed, pretending to be old and weary. His son simply rolled his eyes.

“I’ve had worse habits and you know it,” he said in a somewhat strained voice, turning around and heading for the front door.

“Where are you going?” one of the boys asked, voicing what Will was wondering. As far as he knew, Elliot didn’t have work today, nor did he have anywhere to be for a while. On top of that, it was absolutely freezing outside and he had apparently not changed his clothes since last night.

“I need some air,” he replied. “I think all this fun through the night has made me a little dizzy and I don’t want to let a bunch of cold air in by opening a window. Don’t miss me too much, guys.” And with that, he threw on a coat that was hanging by the door and went out.

Everyone else went back to their talking as Will headed off into the bathroom. As he turned on the tap to wash his face, he wondered what other people were doing in preparation for today. He was sure that there would be bonfires, barbeques, maybe even riots or mass suicides (he shuddered at the thought of that last one). It seemed so ridiculous that so much stock should be placed in an ancient calendar. Did the Mayans even realize how seriously everyone would take the day that their calendar ended? Did they even mean anything at all or did the limits of their time just cause an error that would have long-term repercussions? Maybe the riots that ensued when people realized that nothing was going to happen would bring the entire world into a state of anarchy, making the prophecy its own cause. He was sure that science fiction writers had a term for that sort of thing…

He reached back to turn off the faucet when he noticed a faint trembling beneath his feet. For a moment, he thought that it might be fatigue playing tricks on him until he realized that the shaking was growing. As this was processing in his mind, he saw the lights flicker above him and heard shouts from the living room as the TVs were no doubt affected as well.

Will couldn’t understand this; they were nowhere near a fault line, so an earthquake this huge shouldn’t be happening there. Trying to keep his brain from locking up, he tried to figure out what to do now. Thinking on his feet, he bolted out of the bathroom and towards the front door, stumbling with the tremors as he ran. The others looked just as panicked as he was, though he noticed that there was some excitement among them.

His heart plummeted, however, as he twisted the knob and pulled at the door, only to find frosty soil pouring in through the gap. Trying to force the door closed, he looked around again as he saw pizza boxes and dishes sliding onto the floor, the dishes shattering on contact. The kids scrambled to find a safe place, though Will knew that it was futile. There was no basement in the house (though he couldn’t remember if that made things worse or not) and it had been a long time since he had owned a table for anyone to get under.

Giving up in his fight against the incoming soil, he hurried towards the stairs as best as he could, wincing when he thought he heard a load bearer break from within the walls. He tried going up the stairs, but the ground was shaking so violently that he slipped on the third step. The pain shot up through his leg from where his knee collided with the stairwell.
“Michelle!” he called in desperation. “Michelle, are you all right?!”

There was no answer.

“Michelle!!” he called again, his mind starting to race through all the horrible possibilities. What if she had hit her head and gotten knocked out while her room was falling apart around her? What if the earthquake had caused her to fall out her own window. But as he still heard no answer, he could only guess and dread.

As he got up and tried to limp across the floor while he felt it bucking under him, his mind traveled to Elliot, who was outside in that whole mess. Where was he right now and why hadn’t he called for them? Maybe he was running for help or maybe he got trapped in a sinkhole. Maybe he, like his own father, was absolutely baffled and didn’t know what to do.

The floorboards were now beginning to give way and even chunks of the ceiling were beginning to fall. The panic from the boys, who were desperately looking for a way out and found no luck, had reached an incredible din. As Will reached for the phone to call 911, he couldn’t help but wonder if they were getting the apocalypse they had hoped for. And all as the walls were coming down… down…


December 21st, 9:22 AM, EST

The first thing Suzanne noticed upon getting up was her splitting headache. All right, she thought. This is the last time I’m ever eating one of those bus station hotdogs. I don’t care how cheap they are…

It took a shower, a quick change of clothes and breakfast (Chex with banana slices, for the curious, which she deemed her own breakfast of champions) for her to realize that the headache was not fading in any way. Shaking her head, she leaned back in her chair and tried to think through the pain.

The first thought that came to her mind was to take some Tylenol, but that proved to be less helpful than she expected. Next, she tried putting an icepack on her forehead, but after five minutes of that, she tossed it into the sink with frustration. Was this a cold? Her nose wasn’t runny nor was she dizzy, but this headache could not possibly be normal. She looked outside as she thought, noticing the minor bit of frost on the plants outside. Her neck of the woods hadn’t gotten snow in a few days, so they were due at any moment. Looking at the ground out her window, she stood up and grabbed a winter jacket that she had slung over her chair. Putting it on, she walked out the door and began to jog down the sidewalk.

She couldn’t say that it was helping the headache per say, but it felt good to get her blood flowing. She loved to jog and run, though she could never call herself a track athlete. Nothing against the people who did it but to her, it seemed silly. Why did you need to train yourself to run? You just moved your legs back and forth really fast and if you were in shape, you could do it for a little longer. She supposed it was natural, though; if you’re going to have a sport, make it out of something that was already fun.
Taking time to wave at the neighbors she recognized, she turned left onto a street that led into town. Suzanne was a suburbs person, mostly because it was much quieter than most cities or even small towns. On top of that, it meant that if you really wanted to see someone, you could just give them a call or knock on their door instead of always seeing them and their friends at whatever coffee shop happened to be close by. It felt much more private than…

She had to stop her train of thought there. For some reason, the running was making her head throb even worse. Actually, to be more accurate, it was starting to flicker while still being incredibly painful. She wanted to reach into her pocket, grab her phone and call her doctor right then and there to get this sorted out, but there were two problems. First, she could feel the absence of a lump in her pocket and realized that she must have left it at home. Second, for some reason or another, her body didn’t want to stop running. The pain was so intense and her legs were moving so quickly as if to expel the pain into the ground that she didn’t notice the car that was coming at her as she ran into the street.

Her mind nearly froze with shock. She couldn’t think of anything to do except keep running and from the looks of it, that wouldn’t be enough. Her life did not flash before her eyes as people said, but she was thinking of bits and pieces of her life; things she regretted, events she wished that she’d shown up to, first classes, last kisses and much more all seemed to be compiled into what seemed like the last few seconds of her life. Everything seemed to be slowing down around her as if her brain was a computer that was so backed up with processor memory that it took a whole minute for it to register a mouse click.

And then something else registered in her mind. It was true, everything seemed to be moving slowly, from the car to a bird that was taking flight from the telephone wire to the lady in a nearby yard who was looking in horror at the scene and dropping what looked like a cup of coffee. But there was one thing that was not slowing down in this scene: Suzanne herself.

Somehow she kept moving at a normal speed, even though the car looked like it was barely going five miles per hour. She didn’t even stop when she realized this and when she blinked, the car was far behind her. Suddenly, everything seemed to snap back into real time and she realized, with a shock that hadn’t quite caught up with her yet, that she was moving faster than that car ever could.
She squinted as she felt the wind blowing into her face and eyes, compounding with the pain in her head. She had never felt windburn anywhere near this before, as if razors were peeling at her cheeks as she ran even faster. She didn’t have any concept of what she was passing anymore; everything was a blur around her and the only things she could feel were the wind cutting into her face, something that felt like it was burning on her jacket and something wet spraying against her feet. Gotta stop, she thought, but her body would not listen. Turn around, make this stop, make itstopmakeitstopstopitstoptstptstptstpt…

The story continues next chapter…

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