Crumbling Earth

While we all go about living our lives, a small group hold, possibly, the most important information in the world. The Earth is crumbling.

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10. Chapter 10

A shiver overtook him as Grey reached for his glass of water. Pale hands passed it to him and curved his fingers around it. The pair of them - him and Trecia - sat at the breakfast table, air seeping into every orifice. Liquid slipped down his throat like sunrise over dreary fields. On one hand, he could've stayed that way until the sun set but the silence between them wasn't so easy to digest.

"Where's Naid?" he inquired, and placed the glass back on the table to the time of a clink. Trecia paused mid-chew, glanced up at him then swallowed.

"Still in bed. After everything, I thought he deserved some rest so I left him to it." She paused with her lip worried between her teeth. "I don't suppose you know where Kailen is, do you?"

"About as well as I know why the sky is blue. She's avoiding me." At that, he cast his gaze down to his hands. Trecia's fingers slotted into the gaps his own sprawled digits left and created a two-tone mesh of skin. It even reminded him of the pictures teachers would jam into their presentations when they were trying to show a hall full of small children what sharing and caring was.

 

Her thumb reached to brush across his forefinger. Featherlight and brief though it was, he had even less time to take notice of it. "You know, you shouldn't get yourself down about it. She's blanking us all. I'm not saying you don't have a right to feel like you do, I'm just telling you not to let it control you - that'll only give her what she wants if she's doing this to get a reaction."

Grey let out a half-humorous chuckle. "You sound like all the adults I've ever known - well, the ones that weren't drunk or otherwise..." As if trying to wash the words from his mouth, he chose that moment to take another swig of water.

"Not the best of childhoods, hmm? Mine wasn't either. For different reasons, of course." That made Grey stop. The older of the two was playing with his hands, after a fashion, and slim fingers danced across his knuckles. This time, it was her that wasn't making eye contact with her companion. Which, considering their proximity, wasn't as easy as it sounded.

At the end of the table, they didn't sit opposite each other. Instead, she sat with her chair facing the longer side of the table and angled a little in his direction. While his chair was positioned at the much smaller side, turned so that his legs weren't stuffed into the cage that was the end of the table.

"Want to talk about it?" The fifteen-year-old shifted closer to the edge of his chair.

And there she was, biting her lip again. "It all started out pretty normal. And, no matter what I say, understand this: I don't blame any one person for what went wrong." When she looked back up at him, her eyes were focused. 

After a moment, he nodded.

 

"We're a mirror universe, but you knew that. Every fifty years, we had a storm and people could cross from your universe to ours - not vice versa. Perfectly natural, perfectly fine." Her words were stern and slow, like she wanted to make sure that someone got it this time.

Grey frowned, leaning closer on auto-pilot. Even though there was no one to hear. No one to tell the school bully. "Then what went wrong?"

"We don't know. There was a disease, some kind of problem, that started to spread and they called it the merge. Everyone and everything that ran into it would give way for your existence. All we knew was that it needed a string of objects to keep going and these objects had to be within a certain height distance of each other.

"It was annihilating the planet, so we set off some depth charges and blew a continuous pit in the edges of the city. Like a really deep moat. Then, Kailen's mum came along. She used a forced storm to get in and, without knowing it, she turned that pit into an ocean of souls..." For a moment, she closed her eyes. It was as if there was something printed on the lids that she needed to see. It was a while before she spoke again. A while before her lips could form words with out shaking.

 

"I was seven when they threw her over the edge. That girl you saw took them too. Too many had already died because of the merge and the sea and the lack of resources and the pit's collateral damage." 

The fifteen-year-old boy swallowed and it hit his throat like a knife. "Ten years... Why didn't you ever try and fly over? If you have the right vehicles, I mean."

"The air crew would die, it's as simple as that. You can't out-fly her. I wasn't kidding when I said 'that's why we're the only ones left'. And now Xander's gone..."

"You have Naid, you know," he pointed out, a desparate grab at some kind of comfort as he sought out her eyes.

Trecia let out a chuckle and shook her head. "He's eleven. He might understand things but he's still dealing with it. Not having parents. Not having a school - and, when you lose your chance to be a kid, that means more than it should."

"Give him a chance? I'm not forcing you to do anything but... I'm here if you ever need to talk about something."

"We're talking now, aren't we?" Silence settled for the briefest of times as he locked down at his own interlocked hands. "I was normal. Was. I had a mum who cared, a dad who worked hard and an annoying little brother. We were upper working class; Dad's salary was something big, I remember thinking. The Universal Regulation Department got paid more than the average office worker."

"Universal Regulation?" 

"Yeah, they used to deal with everything and anything about the mirror universe thing. Now they're all dead but they weren't that bad at it. Any other questions?"

"A few."

"Like..?"

"Tell me more about your parents."

 

Trecia raked a hand through her hair and sighed. "Oh, you know, typical family moving up in the world. They had a good relationship, I remember thinking. But I guess I was a bit young."

"I don't know, kids are pretty perceptive where I come from."

"I was an ignorant, overly-curious and pampered little girl and there's nothing you can do to convince me otherwise," she insisted, letting out a laugh that reeked of sarcasm. 

Chuckling, Grey held his hands up in surrender and conceded, "Fine. Fine. If you say so, your majesty..."

"Anyway, they were nice people. I'd go through how kind and gentle they were but I'd be lying; they were the same as any other set of parents like them, they didn't know they'd be leaving us in a few years."

"Did they get along well?" She hesitated. With a spark of an idea, he added, "I'll show you mine if you show me yours."

 

Trecia shrugged but the movement jarred halfway through. Like a cog wheel she was trying to force into movement. Maybe it had rusted, or maybe it just wasn't supposed to move like that anymore. "Not that they fought over money or anything, I can't really remember being stuck financially. Business was the benefit and the downside. Working too much, too late, at the wrong time."

"I name it, your parents had a problem with it." With a near imperceptible nod, he finished her sentence. How did he know that? The slight curve of her lips as the words left him, which told him he'd hit the spot whether she liked it or not.

"You know, the funny thing is, I knew them for longer than Naid did but he misses them more. He was one when the whole thing started to really go down the drain," she muttered, while her knuckles were pressed to her lips and her eyes were lidded.

"One? How did he even..."

"I told him stories. Silly ones, like fairy tales because I thought he was too young to take the tough side to it. I mean, he already had to deal with the toughest side: losing them in the first place."

"Maybe he's attached to the stories and you're attached to the people."

"You've lost me." Her lips were parted slightly and her eyebrows were raised.

"Well, the stories are just stories to you. Sure, they're memories too but you're sharing them with him. They're related to him. To Naid, the stories are like having his parents there with him. And, at some point, his head might have made them into memories with pictures and everything."

"Hmm. Never thought of it that way." Folding her hands, Trecia's focus left her lap and moved back to Grey. "You said you'd 'show me yours'. I'm waiting."

 

Grey stared down at the water in front of him and smiled. "My parents are another type of cliche - poor but madly in love."

"You don't look poor." Which was fair enough, considering what he was wearing. Upon arrival, they'd been given something simple to wear. However, as each set of clothing was washed in turn (he had three by then), he and Kailen sometimes wore what they'd entered Namardea in. On the occasion that those were clean, he swore he'd caught his 'old friend' wearing the same thing for days at a time.

During that particular conversation, that was his choice of clothing: trainers, jeans and a t-shirt (the only thing missing was the jacket).

Trecia had a larger wardrobe. Five outfits, he'd guessed, but there was no certainty. Most of them were similar to his and Kailen's new sets - although the rest were more 'expensive'. None of them were really hers. "You don't look rich."

"That's because I live in hell." Hazel eyes questioned just how good his sight was and a tilted head told him that 'disbelief' wasn't really an accurate way to describe her emotions.

A grin formed on Grey's face, barely there, as he said, "Welcome to my world, then."

 

"I swear, I've only been wearing these two days, no need to get on my tail yet. Pun intended," Kailen muttered, her gaze following Bernis as he meandered over to her. Though he did grunt, in reply, she didn't read anything from that.

It's all about posture. Her thoughts mocked her teachers, the ones who thought dancing was the whole world.

She was sat on the roof of the apartment building with her legs dangling down and thighs spread out on the edge. If it had been cold at all, she wouldn't have known; the clothes, her very own, were almost woven into her skin. There was something about their warmth and the way they smelled more alive than anything there.

The wolf slunk down in her lap, turning his head to stare down in the gap. Windows, walls, balconies stretched out below. Pavement seemed a million years away. Clouds were closer. The cramped space descended into darkness, where a few flaws in the structures peeked out. Above that, the walls ran like filed-down wood. Each building corner was as well-maintained as those in Miroria. Outside of The Bin.

"You know, it's still pretty ugly but the view isn't all that bad once you get high enough up. Wouldn't the storm do the most damage up here?" Kailen beat her heels against the wall as Bernis nuzzled the space just above her kneecap. "I bet this is the highest I've ever been. And I spent three quarters of my life - not that it's that big anyway - climbing up ladders and messing about on top of buildings."

She shot him a look, trying to make something of his lack of movement. As if he could sense the question in her mind, he angled his head to the side and stretched his jaw. Sharp teeth slid in and out of their regular positions.

 

Hands buried in his fur, Kailen was about to open her lips again when something inside her twisted. Tension lapped over her cranium and her hands froze. The sensation was made of tightly strung guitar strings. Once it had masked a substantial amount of her skull, sharp pain manifested itself in a strip from front to back.

"I know you're out there... Come and find me..." A shiver ran through her bones. Bernis was sat up his eyes level with hers; one of his paws pestered her shoulder but he gained no response.

In the blink of an eye, it was all washed away by one wave of nausea that blackened the edges of her vision vignette style. She drew in a sharp breath. "Who said that?" But there was no one else on the roof. No one else around her -  at least, nobody with such feminine tones to their voice.

"Bernis, I'm getting out here. Take me somewhere interesting. Like those fields, or something," she demanded, and stood up after one last glance over the edge of the building. Behind them was a greener landscape (although, in patches, it looked more like brown than anything that resembled green).

 

"Green, blue, yellow and red. Probably the only colours I've used in my life," Kailen mumbled. In front of her, there were eight containers. Half had the remnants of petals and plant parts left in them and the rest held watery solutions of colour.

On the way back, when her brain had stopped racing at ten thousand miles per hours and had started to make more sense, she'd stopped off at what looked like a sports supply warehouse. The building was a mess in some places but she'd grabbed a football and a tennis ball from the inside - the tennis ball had taken up residence in her pocket for later use. 

Equipment lined up in the kitchen, Kailen placed the football on the counter and dipped two fingers into the first liquid. Blue oozed over her middle and forefiinger. So she slapped it onto the ball, grinning when the only drip it made was into a tiny crevice.

 

"Hey, what are you up to?" Trecia's words didn't halt her actions, even as the older girl advanced further into the room. "Painting. I haven't done that in years."

"Good for you," Kailen grumbled, dipping her other pair of fingers into the green paint and outlining shapes with them.

Trecia shook her head and folded her arms over her chest, invoking a self-aware feeling in her veins. She didn't mind her appearance and anything physical about her, but being watched drove her to somewhere else entirely. "You can't carry on like this. I can tell you're getting tired of avoiding us - you're not even leaving the room and I'm doing much more than just standing in the doorway."

"The idea wasn't to avoid you to genius. It was, up until now, to ignore you. Snub you. Whatever you'd like to call it." Bitterness weighed down her voice like a toxin polluting water. Each world was masked in sludge.

 

A heavy sigh came from behind her. "Well, then, you're not doing a very good job of it... Grey wants a word with you."

And Kailen didn't face to look back to sense the exasperation wafting off of her. To the tune of a scowl, the similarities to her father struck her. Before alcohol had possessed every aspect of his being, that was; he'd been sane. At first, he would fail to answer her questions or her greetings. Or anything really. Her five-year-old self's distress was later coupled with the burden of unreturned comfort, when he broke at last and spent hours staining the carpets with tears. It all surmounted to the way she stayed out late and lied through her teeth and talked as if they were strangers. She lived her own life. Part of her was done trawling through the jungle undergrowth and had decided to travel across the canopy. It wasn't all that different from climbing from one rooftop to another.

Somewhere in between him grieving and him getting drunk, he'd dish out the rolling of his eyes or clicking of his tongue. The opposite of 'free hugs', Kailen thought, her fingers working more vigorously on the white-ish ball.

"For pity's sake Kailen... Talk to me." There was a push in her voice. Extra force would've left her in the same position: hands roaming the surface of the ball, sleeves pulling tight with every stroke. "Are you scared of something? Are we shouting at you or doing something wrong? You can talk to us, we don't bite."

 

In a flash, Kailen's head whipped round to face her and she pointed a blue finger at the older girl. "I'm not a scared little snowflake, okay? Not everyone has a problem with you because they have 'problems' of their own. Maybe I just don't like you, ever considered that? Huh?" The fabric of her jacket distorted more as she spread her arms. A blaze burned within both eyes.

"Listen, take that jacket off. It looks two sizes too small. And then we can talk maturely about this."

"No, I don't want to do either of those. So, look, take that head off. It's two sizes too big." Her nails finished the last details of her art, hands halfway clenched over it. Feet away, Trecia was still and she almost thought she saw pain. "Anything else or are we done with this little chit chat?"

Seconds slipped through their fingers before she answered, "Grey..." Kailen angled her head back towards her and raised an eyebrow. "I want you to talk to Grey."

"Bet he doesn't want to talk to me, though."

"Your mother would ha-" The younger girl tore herself and ball away from the desk, the sharp movements knocking one of the cups over and spilling the liquid across the desk. Shoes made sounds worthy of an earthquake as she stormed over to show the object into Trecia's hands.

"Stop." She forced Trecia's slender fingers to close around it. "While you still have something left of this."

With that, she stalked past her and out of the room, leaving Trecia to stare ahead at the rhythmic drip of blue 'paint' - and then glance down at the object in her hands. Clumps of green surrounded by blue, with white patches at the top and bottom.

A globe.

 

It was suffocating. Bodies pressed to his, breath down the back of his neck, hair that scraped his eyes. There was a cacophony of groans, an orchestra of screaming, an assault on his nostrils where burning rubber incinerated his airways. Whispers attacked him. Beings like skyscrapers, concealing him in a darkness and the sinking that lead him to believe he was dropping lower and lower into the pit.

Something swept past his ear. Naid glimpsed its features with trembling limbs: a dim light for eyes, a mouth that parted in wisps to release rattling sounds, and all encased in something vaguely human. Except it wasn't.

There's nothing human about that, Naid thought. His own breathing was laboured as the form weaved its way around him. Through strained eyes, he saw they were all alike. Some writhed in agony and scraped hands across their faces, causing more damage with their tapering fingertips. Others were merely blank clouds with bodies that faded into their lack of legs. Each finger was a claw. 

Every single one brushed and pushed until he struggled to remain upright. But they had no form or strength. He felt the chill bear into him, as one cloud caressed his face in passing, and began to believe they had no concept of bones (let alone muscle).

 

His throat tightened and breathing became a chore. Turning his head, he locked gazes with one of the beings who stared back at him. Lines ran across his eyes, cracks in glass, and the man's mouth hung limp. A droning poured forth from it.  Pieces of his face were missing like it was a jigsaw puzzle being slowly defiled after time and effort. One hand was at his throat and the index finger was twisted to the side - beneath it, its legs had already started to fragment.

He didn't snake about or leer; he was new. Nor did he break the eye contact between them. "Wh... Who?"  Every syllable sucked more air from the room. Was it even a room? Was he even breathing air? Was he even breathing at all? "Xander?"

Just as he'd croaked out the name, the man he believed to be Xander pointed to the side of Naid with a trembling arm that could've been possessed by a demon (if he didn't know better). The noises leaving his mouth intensified. "What's...going on? What are you p-pointing at?" 

Breaths came as though a rock had settled on his chest, like a hand pumping the air out of him. Then an entirely new grip forced him to turn its way and he was met with the face of a creature. Its mouth moved open and closed, letting out hisses and moans, before it contented itself to seize his chin with two fingers and a thumb. The digits were needles pricking his face.

"You. Can't. Stay..." The rasp washed over him and brought goosebumps in its path. Naid opened his lips to speak.

And he was torn from the cluster of things.

 

Meanwhile, Trecia awoke to the click and creak of a door. She extricated herself from the sheets, rubbed her eyes and glanced around - the room's only exit was the door parallel to her bed, which was shut, and her own movements were the only signs of life in there. 

"Naid? Was that you?" she slurred, putting on her shoes and turning the door handle. Out in the corridor, just outside Naid's bedroom, a flickering glow shined out the doorway. Trecia stepped across the threshold, closed her own door and crept along the corridor to Naid's room.

The door's wide open, she noted. 

 

Inside, a group of three candles in a little glass tray were burning. The furniture was in its usual state of order because he didn't really have many possessions to litter the floor with. His shoes were at the end of his bed and all of his outfits were stashed away in the wardrobe. Of course, on his desk, there was a haphazard stack of books and equipment but it all fit within the confines of the oak wood.

What really drew her attention was the mess of the bed. In one corner, the fitted sheet had been torn from its position tucked under the mattress. Naid's duvet was crumpled and the pillows looked ready to fall off the bed altogether.

But no Naid.

 

"He can't be far... I just heard the door go and Grey isn't on this floor. So it has to be him." 

Unless it's Kailen. But, then, how would that explain the empty bed? I would've heard the door go if Naid left before, she assured herself. Then, for once, Trecia froze. She was the oldest - there was an empty room at the other end of the corridor to remind her of that. There was a wardrobe of clothing too big for Grey and Naid to remind her of that.

So she forced her mind back on-task. "Okay, stairwells first. That's what...Xander would do." The name got stuck on the tip of her tongue for a second and she had to swallow to rid her mouth of the harsh taste.

However, upon checking the first three floors down, she found no results. Her next destination was settled. The jacket over her arm was slipped on and she padded down the steps and along the corridor.

At Grey's door, she inhaled slowly then let the air rush from her lungs. And knocked. No sooner had she done so, than Grey appeared.

"Trecia, what's-"

"Naid's missing."

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