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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11. Chapter 11

Grey's mouth opened and closed, each time letting out one syllable. "Are you sure? I mean, maybe he just got up to get a glass of water. He is eleven."

"No, no," Trecia stuttered, swallowing dryness and pulling her jacket tighter. "He doesn't do things like this. When we were growing up, he'd ask me for permission for everything. Me and... I was an authority. That isn't the kind of thing that disappears overnight."

A draught blew through the corridor. It crept in between their toes with their mingled breathing being the only sound. Trecia's chest rose and fell - when the younger of the two laid a hand on her arm, ice bolted into her core and both pairs of eyes locked gazes. Skin burned, eyes blazed. A bitter fire.

"I'll go get my jacket."

 

Her black boot trapped the door open after he wandered into his room. Mess covered the bottom half of the bed but the stench had escaped her. Every sense in her body was occupied by three things (none of which included actually watching Grey): the freeze that nibbled on her extremities, the inferno that pumped blood around her body and the hole the size of an eleven-year-old boy that they both fled out of.

 

Those icy fingers grabbed hold of her shoulder again and Grey pulled the door shut behind him. "Come on, let's go. The sooner we find him, the sooner you can sleep again."

Trecia bit her lip and shook her head. "It's not really as simple as that, sorry."

"I think I got the idea after Kailen started snooping around your library," he murmured, while one hand picked at the stitches in his sleeve. "Sorry about that, by the way."

 

She snapped her head up to meet his eye. "You don't need to apologise; she had to find out some way or another. Maybe, now she's done it by herself, it'll give her some sort of closure." Trecia paused, staring at her hands, and pushed open the door to the stairway. "It kind of offends me that she didn't ask us outright but Xander would've expected that. We weren't exactly the most welcoming. Our history speaks for itself." Even as she spoke, like a knot, muscles tightened in her body.

 

The fifteen year old's laugh lacked humour in the same way that a homeless man lacked money. "In our world, my country enslaved people with a different skin colour and treated them like animals. My teacher used to say: history might speak for itself, but it doesn't mean you should let it." The corner of her mouth quirked upwards and an eyebrow arched. "Look at it this way - just because an angry kid can scream doesn't mean you shouldn't tell it to shut up."

They descended, step by step, and she curled her lips inwards. "You'd think we'd have learned to respect life a little bit more, after losing so much of it," Trecia managed - her knuckles had turned white against the peeling black rail.

Grey stopped at the bottom of the staircase and turned, just in time to catch her before she fell into the death trap a worn step had created. "What exactly happened?" he probed. The pair of them were on steady ground again and, this time, he took point. "And I don't mean the short and sweet version."

"Another time, Grey. We have a job to do." Her lips had turned into cast iron lines: broad and brittle and dull. Leaving behind rosy patches of skin, she pulled her hand from his and entered the bottom floor corridor.

 

The air was stale and chilled, as if ready to become the first psychical embodiment of frostbite. Part of the way down, with a hand on her forearm, Grey stopped them outside the doorway to the dining room.

Trecia opened her mouth to speak but he beat her to it. "I'll just check. I'll be a second and then I'll come back so we can move on."

"There's no time! What if he's hurt?" Using what little height difference they had to glare up at him, she yanked her arm backwards. Grey stumbled forwards, placing a hand out to stop himself colliding with the door frame (and his conveniently-placed companion).

They were eye to eye. "Like I said, he's also eleven. He should be able to handle it until we get there." With that point made, he pushed off from the frame. So she was once more exposed to the tingling chill.

 

Might as well be a freezer, she remarked. Trecia had made her entrance but Grey was already far ahead. After a moment, she resolved to stay put and breath warmth onto her palms. And, soon enough, he was back.

"Nothing. As long as green and blue paint isn't a clue," he relayed. Curiosity had inscribed itself in the crease of his forehead and the frown he wore in between gasps. The fact that he didn't comment any further rebuilt some bridges that he'd burned by 'wasting time'.

 

When they hit the streets, Trecia's teeth chattered faster than her feet moved. Every now and then she'd dig her nails into the palm of her hands just to feel the hiss of pain take root there. Stronger than a tingle.

Each new turn drew them further into the maze - time got lost in there with them too. The only difference was that, while one had been there all its life, the other never got lost when they were losing something.

Trecia tried to shake the cold from her bones. It was an annoying flat mate who was there to stay. A groan spilled from her lips, an off-white cloud unfurling, as she called out, "Grey!"

 

No response.

"Grey, why did you stop?"

Tendrils of white were the only indicator he was responding - that was, until he knelt down and leaned over something on the ground. "You'll never guess what I found..."

She didn't have to. Not after she saw her brother's pale complexion, slumped on contrast against the ground.

 

 

Unfolding herself, Kailen made her way out of her room and down the corridor. A blanket was draped over her shoulders with each end dropping down between her arm and her abdomen.

Her shoes let out protest when the surface changed from carpet to something slightly tougher. But she didn't even attempt to slip them off because, while sneaking around unseen was freedom on her tastebuds, it wasn't necessary.

 

It's not like I'm doing anything, she thought. As far as they know. And, come to think of it, they don't really get up to much either.

One hand reached up to rub at her eye - for a second, she glanced up the stairs to the penthouse level and a light stabbed at her eye. The first few steps down the staircase were aimless, almost robotic.

In truth, she wasn't aimless. To forget the whispers in her head, to figure out a way of telling what Bernis meant to say, to keep her eyes on the other three residents... They were all her aims, whether she acknowledged them or not. It was odd; a perfect life had no goal yet neither did hers.

Images flashed up before her eyes of a conversation with Grey.

 

"You know, I'd do anything to be like them," he told her, tilting his Coca Cola can in the direction of the family on the street below.

Kailen raised an eyebrow and swung her legs from the end of the roof. "Pfft. Really? Like them? They've got so much to do, Grey, and they can do it whenever they want. So they just sit around and put it off until tomorrow."

"It's called relaxing. Besides, it'd be fun."

"Fun schmun. There's always something to do for us - and we do relax. You think they're allowed to play on the roof like we are?" She snorted, tipped back the last of her Pepsi and stood up. Black lines marked the sides of her trousers (she didn't have to look to know they followed round to the back).

 

A tutting sound from beside her brought her attention back to Grey. He stood up, forcing her to look up, and shook his head. "They're filthy."

"Dad'll be too drunk to notice. And who else is going to care? I'll just wash them tomorrow. You know, in my busy life." The she dropped the can over the edge of the roof, smirking and hoping it'd land in amongst the other rubbish below. And knowing her father would've hit the bottom of a whole other type of can by then.

 

Kailen screwed her eyes up. That wasn't a journey her brain wanted to make again.

"Funny, isn't it?" she muttered, smile sardonic. And it was a much greater taunt than the lack of midnight snack. "Your whole life, you think you're better than those cosy, cushy kids. They're still crying over their grandmas and you were so over dear old Mummy. Now you know how she died, all you're doing is playing public enemy number one." Her heel scuffed the carpet. "Great. Great job."

Thin hands raked through her hair.

 

"Listen to me... You can ignore them but not me..." The words slithered into her mind and it was the same voice from earlier. This time, it scratched against her skull. Its syllables jarred her bones. In fact, she wouldn't have seen a way to get rid of it if she hadn't stumbled into a door frame seconds later.

Groaning, Kailen pinched the bridge of her nose and blinked spots of black from her vision. At least the only voice in here's mine now.

 

Any relief she felt was extinguished when her ears picked up approaching footsteps, muddled by heavy breathing and the occasional word exchanged. With a curse spared for her squeaking soles, albeit in her head, she stepped out of the doorway and stowed away behind a piece of furniture. On her side.

True, it wasn't important that she wasn't discovered. Part of her was just like a spooked horse. Conversation with them made her heartbeat unsettled, her brain run on survival instinct and her mouth spew out the contents of literary sewers. She wanted to bolt.

 

Yet having her back against the wall would obstruct her view. And if a childhood of peering down from rooftops had left her with anything, it was an abhorrence of obstruction. So she leaned against the wall beside the cabinet and trusted her trainers not to peek out while her head did.

 

"We have to get him warm." Grey's voice was firm - all she saw was the back of his head, as he maneuvered his way into the room.

It could've been the time of night, or something to with those voices, but she swore she saw a hand dangling down from Grey's grasp.

When Trecia spoke, it almost wasn't her voice. "Grey, we can't wake him up. What if something happened and we won't know because we don't have any...any equipment?"

"Look, Trecia," he soothed. As she edged around the cabinet, she saw how his hands were planted on her shoulders like he was trying to root her to the spot. "He has a pulse, he's breathing. I checked. Just give him a few hours to rest up. And get some sleep yourself, you're shaking too much to do him any good."

"No, I have to stay with him..." Trecia's head turned, glancing down at the body on the room's bed. Then she glanced back up and levelled her gaze with his, releasing a tiny puff of air. "Alright, alright. I'll go."

 

Somewhere in Kailen's brain, there was a very low speed limit. Because she stayed where she was while Grey moved aside and Trecia moved closer. Black hair tumbled forward. Most of the strands hung in mid air or hit the bedding, but some tickled Naid's cheeks as she pressed a kiss to each of them.

It was only when the older girl turned around that she picked up her cue, pushed off the wall and sprinted down the corridor.

 

 

"Kailen!" Trecia called after her - her heart jumped inside her body, like a fist slamming on a table. But she still ploughed on in the hopes that the older of the two would forget that she'd seen her. A triumphant smile spread across her lips as she seized the handle of the stairwell door.

Until a hand hit the door from behind her, spread-eagle just below the glass pane. So, after a few moments of status quo, she relinquished her hold on the handle. Despite not facing her physically.

 

"I just want to talk."

The brunette restrained a huff. "Fine."

The hand altered the angle it was at, had Kailen half-convinced that she'd be able to make a break for it and then slid back into place. Trecia stood with her whole arm against the door. From her new position, she could see part of Kailen's face. "Look, this is ridiculous."

"Yeah, I agree." Hope flashed up on her jailer's face. "I'm a guest, you shouldn't be holding me prisoner."

Trecia sighed, her eyes sliding closed. When she looked back up, there was no firmness to her speech. "I'm sorry you feel that way. I really am. But all I'm doing is trying to help you - I'm not trying to smother you or be the mother figure that you've lacked for years of your life-"

 

Head turning, Kailen fixed her with a glare more wounded than it was furious. "Don't talk about her like that; you're the reason I 'lacked' her in the first place. You killed her."

Trecia swallowed. In any normal situation, Kailen would've taken joy in the sign that she was winning the argument. But, this time, it felt wrong to do so when the last time they'd marched down that path was when Xander died. "No, my people did. I didn't do anything. You wouldn't want to be blamed for the slavery your country put other people through - Grey told me about it."

Eyes narrowed. "That's different, I don't agree with what they did. I hate racism and anybody who tries gets to meet my fist."

"Doesn't sound very different to me. I'm not a fan of your mother's death either but I accept that it makes it difficult to trust me. So I'm trying my best to help you. You just have to let me in," she pleaded.

Kailen appraised her with dark, impenetrable shells. The lines of her face were taut. "I'm listening."

 

"You don't have to trust me or... You don't have to trust anyone. But it's ridiculous that you and Grey fell out over this." Trecia held her hand up, quashing any attempt at a response, and continued, "At least talk to him, try to be friends again. They're sort of what you'll need here."

"Why?"

The eldest inhaled, hazel seeking out brown. "Because, for the brief time that I was actually allowed to see your mother, I don't think she'd want you to be like this."

 

At that, the spooked horse wanted to offer a witty rebuke and find another way out. Another part of her crept out of hiding. One that couldn't have flourished in a life with few answers, a father that didn't drown just his sorrows and a definition of home much like that of a real estate manager.

 

"If you do, I can give you something in return. Free reign. You can go anywhere you want, do anything you want... As long as you're not hurting anyone."

"Does that mean I'm...allowed to use the library now?"

"I said anywhere, didn't I?"

"Yeah. Okay. Just give me time - sitting around and doing nothing is exactly what I want to do right now. But it's driving me a little bit crazy." Her eyes didn't meet Trecia's as she cracked her knuckles. "And, if you tell Grey any of that, this is deal's off. Library or no library."

Books are the last thing I expected to be bargaining with, she commented.

"I won't if you don't. So long as you keep your word too."

"I was never that good in school and I'm the closest thing to a thug here. But not a criminal..." On words alone, it could've sounded like she was angry. In truth, she was still trying to process the way past tense fell so easily from her lips.

Trecia still had a steady tone like she was used to it. Like Kailen was clinging desperately to a plank of wood and her older 'friend' had learned how to ride it home. "Why don't go and get Gre-"

Further down the corridor, the subject of their conversations stepped out. "What's going on?" he inquired, hand on the frame.

"Kailen wanted to talk to you."

Grey peered past one and took in the presence of the other, who watched him without that trace of hope. It didn't save her gut from the burn. "And the reason she couldn't come and talked to me is? Maybe we could've done the whole apology thing."

"I know this is a long shot but maybe, just maybe, you could leave the whole apology thing until tomorrow and say goodnight now. I mean, I'm tired. You'd have to be inhuman not to be," she rambled, letting off a high-strung laugh and holding her breath with a sharp intake. Silence fell, a thick sheet.

 

Then his eyes met hers and she saw that, behind them, there was the same boy in there who'd sat on rooftops and drank fizzy drinks with her. The same boy but a different man was starting to form about him. Like the dark layer on top of alkali metals when they oxidised.

"Well..." he began, taking steps towards her until they were within a few feet of each other. "Good night, I guess? In case you can't tell-"

The corner of her mouth crept upwards, but she corrected it in a heartbeat. "You're not that good at this."

"I never said that."

"But you were going to..."

 

Her heart made another jump out of line when he stood there, minus an expression. Until a smile break out on his features and he nodded. "Well, I'll see you at breakfast." So he patted her shoulder, yawned and moved past them to get into the stairwell. All the while, a warmth of comfort spread across her shoulders.

 

 

For a few moments after he'd gone, the sound of his footsteps echoing from the staircase, they just stood still. More or less. Kailen shuffled on the spot and stared down at her tattered shoes. Cold licked at her feet through their weaknesses, but she'd aside enough of her pride for one night. The rest was hers.

The silence broke when Trecia cleared her throat. "I'm guessing you'll need some sleep, then? Not that I think you've been skipping sleep, or anything, but it's late and..."

"What happened to him?"

"We don't know. At the minute, all I can do is sleep in the same room and hope he wakes up when I do."

"'Kay... Bye. I mean, good nigh-" The rest of the monotone departure was cut off as Kailen swayed on her feet, hand flying to clutch her head. A groan escaped her lips.

 

Inside her body, the mutterings of a crowded city vibrated through her. Word after word. And, with each sound came fresh nausea. She was submerged in it all.

Pressure poured into her ears and, unlike water, she couldn't get rid of it regardless of the way she turned her head. In that bubble, pressure grew and grew. But it was never painful (but, God, she wished it was).

"Always talking, always speaking..." The sound made her innards lurch. "But never to me."

At that moment, her vision was about to take a turn for the worst. Then it was gone. All around her was dark void, stretch after stretch of it, filled with that same phrase.

 

Until a hand on her sleeve tore her back into reality. Her chest heaved as she leaned against the wall - Trecia stood closer, her eyes chaotic with emotion (unlike her own), yet her only contact were the fingers on her bicep.

"You just went blank... What happened?"

"Nothing."

"If that was nothing, I'd hate to see something. Was it a seizure?"

"No." Trecia's foot tapped on the floor. "Call me crazy and I'll make a list of everything weird, creepy and nuts that ever happened here."

"Okay, you're not crazy. But this important so go on."

"I think I might be hearing voices."

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