Fork Road

Welcome to a world of conspiracy and psychological warfare as you've never seen it before.

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11. 11

ELEVEN

 

Nothing Lisa did could make her understand what was going on. She’d asked for this. She knew that. But she clearly didn’t understand what she had been asking for. She snuffled and sniffled and cried without meaning to. It was extremely out of character. She hid her face every time she thought another watery spell was coming on and tried her best to keep her distance from Amanda – as far as she could in the compact space of the van. Lisa was beginning to see the truth in the word “lunacy” that everyone had attributed to Amanda. She carried on as if everything had been normal, as if everything that had happened – everything that those men had done and the way Amanda had behaved – was nothing out of the ordinary. Lisa couldn’t shake that. Her nerves were on end. Han didn’t say much to her and – as shaken as he might have been at the time – he didn’t appear as angry or upset any longer.

 

Amanda found a quiet spot and parked the van. She shut off the engine, folded her arms and rested back on the seat. She heard the door slide open and either Lisa or Han stepped out and wandered off. Amanda shrugged and shut her eyes. It was night. She was tired. She had no intention of becoming a ball of stress. There were already bad thoughts gnawing at the back of her mind – without the aid of a dozen others that both Han and Lisa were no doubt thinking. They didn’t know what Amanda knew. She knew that Han could rely on that, but could Lisa?

Amanda heard Han sigh and take the passenger seat next to her – the seat squeaking a little under his weight.

Amanda yawned, loud and proud, “What do you want, Han?”

“I have questions,” he muttered.

“Could sound any more depressed?” Amanda chuckled, “What’s got you down, Han?”

“What was that?” he asked.

Amanda paused and then said, “You’ve killed more than your fair share of NihilCorp members, shouldn’t you know?” she asked him.

“You could have killed us all,” Han protested, though not daring to raise his voice. It was as if he was more afraid than upset.

“But I didn’t,” Amanda responded, “That’s what matters.” She straightened in her seat and looked at him, “Can you trust me enough to know what I’m dealing with? What we’re dealing with? They would have happily died if we died too. That’s what they do. That’s what they are.”

“We could have confronted them,” Han said, “We could have dealt with them the way we should have.”

That would have gotten us killed,” Amanda pointed out, “Han, we didn’t come here to fight them. We don’t have the manpower for that; let alone arms, targets, strategic locations. We came here just to investigate, find whatever it is that has piqued Alpha’s interest and head home.”

“So this is what we’ll be doing?” Han asked her, “Behaving recklessly every time we encounter them?”

“We play them,” Amanda told him, “Every encounter, every instance, every twist and every turn – we play them. They have the upper hand here, we can’t engage with them like we did in Montreal,” she looked at Han, “Don’t ever forget that.”

“Fuck’s sake…” Han muttered.

“I warned you– ”

“I know you fucking warned me!” Han snapped. He caught himself and mumbled, “Sorry. Just… I know.”

 

Amanda sighed and closed her eyes. She rubbed her forehead with her hand.

“Can I ask you something?” Han said, gasping for air as if he’d run a mile.

Amanda kept her eyes closed, “What?”

“Why have our roles reversed?” Han said, “Why aren’t you scared and worried like you were? Why am I terrified?”

“This is all new to you,” Amanda mumbled, “You’ve always been one for a bloody fight,” she scoffed, “You and your meat body. But you’ve never done this, not for long. You’re a glory hog – you don’t understand subtlety. And this work demands it,” Amanda breathed through her nose, “That’s why you’re afraid. It’s all new to you,” Amanda reached out and slapped Han’s arm, “You’ll be fine. And me? I don’t know. I could complain before I got here – to stop it happening. There was something of a point to it. But there isn’t now. I’m here. I’m here,” she rubbed her face with her hands, wiping off the sweat and tears, “Why complain now?” she scoffed, “It’s that or the adrenaline. I don’t really know.”

Han looked up into the night, his eyes flitting from star to star in the endless sky, “Do you know what this feels like?” he asked Amanda, with a big sigh.

“What?” she asked, entirely bored of the conversation.

“Montreal,” he laughed – from exhaustion, from stress, he didn’t know, but he laughed, “Fucking Montreal, all over again.”

“That’s us: Han Schmitz and Amanda H. Cross – living the high life,” Amanda joked.

“It’s not funny, Amanda,” Han muttered.

“No,” she agreed, “But if we can’t laugh about it, then what can we do?” she got up to stretch her legs, “We have to make our peace with this whole affair. We can squabble and complain after, but as of here and now: we have a job to do.”

Han shook his head, “You have really weird mood swings, you know that?” he told Amanda.

Amanda shrugged, “I’m rarely myself, these days,” she yawned again, “Where did Andy go? She seemed pretty upset.”

“Not far, I hope.”

“Hmm,” Amanda grabbed her coat and put it on, “Keep an eye on the van, will you? I’ll look for her.”

 

Lisa hadn’t gone far. She was sitting on the concrete out side the van, leaning against its body and shivering in the cold.

“Shouldn’t you have taken your jacket?” Amanda asked her, hands in pockets.

Lisa didn’t look at her, “Go away,” she said through gritted teeth, “Go back inside and leave me alone.”

“You’ve been alone for long enough, Lisa,” Amanda told her. She sat down next to her on the cold ground and folded her arms across her chest.

Lisa moved away a little, “Don’t call me that. You never call me that.”

“Would you prefer Pauline?” Amanda asked her.

Lisa bit her lip, “Just call me Andy. Andy, like you always do.”

“Why are you upset?” Amanda asked.

“Because you’re insane!” Lisa barked, “You’re my best friend – my only friend – and you’re insane. You pulled me into this world and I can never leave – because you’re insane.”

“In all fairness, Lisa, I did attempt to protect you from all this,” Amanda pointed out, “As best as I could. It was your decision to come with us, your own persuasion that got you into this,” Amanda paused, “I still don’t understand why you’re so upset.”

Lisa stifled a growl, “You nearly killed those men in the street! You nearly ran them over like they weren’t there! And they made no effort to even move out of the way!” she buried her face in her hands, “Why? What’s wrong with them?” Lisa mumbled, “What drives a person to give up their own life?”

Amanda mumbled, “They’re fanatics. That’s what they think their purpose is in this life, Lisa.”

“To be run over in the street to stop you and Han?”

“To be martyred in the name of protecting their ideals and the people who believe in those ideals,” Amanda corrected her.

 

Lisa looked at her hands. They were shaking, quaking with the experience. She didn’t feel good. She didn’t feel clean or well-kept. She felt like a caged animal that was beyond confusion and befuddlement. She didn’t know what to do with herself.

“What was it that Han said?” Lisa mumbled, “Did he say that you were one of them, once?”

Amanda nodded, “Once.”

 

Lisa didn’t say anything for a long while. She looked away from Amanda – into the nothingness that was the dimly lit road ahead. In the darkness, she could see something of a lone figure walking towards them. Probably just a passerby on this lonely street, there didn’t seem to be much life about. She hated the suburbs for this reason – it was never exciting enough. But, she supposed, that’s what got her into this mess in the first place.

“Where you like them?” Lisa asked Amanda, “Where you a fanatic?”

Amanda shrugged, “I was in a dark place at that point in my life. I won’t go into the sob story of poor, young Amanda Cross, but the baseline is – I was young and I was stupid.”

“But why them?” Lisa pressed, “Why not a religion or a hippie cult or communists – why a group that believes that the destruction of the world is the only way humanity would truly be free?” Lisa paused, “And what does that even mean? How can you be free when you’re dead?”

Amanda touched Lisa’s face, “Too many questions for a single night, “ she said, “But to give you the short answer – when we’re young and optimistic in this big, ruthless world: we always want more than we can handle. We always opt for it, because we don’t know what we’re getting into. And when those plans fall though, the optimism – youthful pragmatism – dies inside us and suddenly… we don’t want anything. We get tired of wanting things,” Amanda looked at the sky, “There are so many constraints in this world – what you can do, where you can go, how many people you can love, how much money you can make… You can’t choose any of those. They all have limits. But dying,” she looked back at Lisa, “In death, there’s nothing. No limits. No restrictions. Life can never be as free as death.”

“That’s crazy talk,” Lisa retorted, “There’s nothing to be happy about after you die. There’s nothing at all. That’s not a freedom I’d enjoy.”

“Some people find no enjoyment in life either,” Amanda explained calmly, “It hurts less when you can’t feel anything at all.”

“Do you still believe in all this?”

Amanda muttered under her breath, “I don’t know what to believe in anymore. All I know is what I have to do – brush my teeth twice a day, exercise for 30 minutes, eat three meals, sleep at night – the rest just happens as it happens.” Amanda looked up and furrowed her brows as if something was awfully peculiar.

 

“What’s wrong?” Lisa asked her.

Amanda didn’t respond.

“What?” Lisa prompted her, sound very tense and afraid, “What is it?”

“That man over there,” Amanda said in a calm tone, jutting her chin towards the distant figure that had been walking towards them, “He’s been standing there for a while.”

“Probably some drunk who got lost on the way home, I’m sure he’ll be fine,” Lisa reassured her.

Amanda stood up and gestured for Lisa to stand up as well, “Get up,” she said.

Lisa’s forehead creased with worry, “You aren’t really worried about this, are you?”

“Get up,” Amanda repeated it, with the same monotony.

“Oh for…” Lisa cursed under her breath and got up, putting her hands in the pockets, “What? What is it?”

Amanda shut her eyes, “Close your eyes for a second,” she told Lisa, “A second and no more.”

Lisa closed her eyes, counted a Mississippi, and opened them.

 

She almost flew back in shock.

 

The figure had taken a leap – a massive leap – towards them. He was no more than a few feet away. In the darkness, Lisa couldn’t make out his features, but he was wearing a large, padded coat over his rather short body, thick snow boots on his feet and a woolen hat over his head.

“What is this…?” Lisa asked Amanda, barely getting the words out. Lisa was too afraid even to blink, “How did he do that?”

“What do you want?” Amanda asked the man, “What are you here for?”

The man just chuckled.

Lisa quaked. There wasn’t anything else she could think to do. She wanted to call for Han, but realised he must have been sleeping.

“Andy…” Amanda said, “I need you to do something for me.”

Lisa looked up at Amanda, “W…What?”

“I need you to approach it.”

Lisa pushed Amanda away, “Uh-uh, no fucking way!” Lisa bawled, “I don’t know what game this is, Amanda, but I’m not fucking playing.”

Amanda walked towards Lisa with her hands up and grasped her – as if to pull her into a hug – and then violently shoved her towards the man. Lisa screamed. Or she thought screamed – she couldn’t hear it over the roar of the demon that grabbed her. He held her like a vice – pressing her arms into her ribs as if to break through them. His maw expanded to – tearing open his own mouth, the flesh and blood coming apart. And the teeth, sharpening – pointing down, down, down. Closer and closer to Lisa’s terrified face.

She felt the points sink into her scalp.

 

Bang!

 

There was a moment of silence. Lisa head a remote fizzling sound – her eyes still shut tight, too shaken to open them just yet. She moved, realised there was nothing holding her. A shudder ran through her as she cracked her eyes open and saw a corpse on the ground – a clean, bloodless hole in the middle of its pale forehead. At her side, Amanda put away a small gun that was smoking at the shaft.

“What happened?” Lisa heard Han call from the van, “I heard a gunshot,” he saw the body on the ground and gasped, “Did you–?”

“Nothing,” Lisa murmured, “Nothing happened, it was all a farce,” she felt sick and dizzy, as if her legs had become slow heating plastic. She was sweating but cold.

Amanda pulled off her coat and attempted to put it over Lisa. Lisa shrieked.

“Get away! Get away!” she yelped, collapsing onto the ground and crawling away, “Get away! Don’t touch me!”

Amanda moved away and looked at Han, “We’ll talk about this later,” she told him, “Get a blanket on Andy and help me move this body into the van. There are body bags in there somewhere.”

From the sound of it, Han sighed and placed a blanket on Lisa’s shoulders before stepping onto the gravel to help Amanda.

“It was a bad dream... A bad daydream…” Lisa murmured to herself, “A figment… A hallucination… I didn’t see what I thought I saw…” she passed a clammy hand over her moist and pulled the blanket closer around her. She blinked rapidly, attempting to calm her breathing. Lisa wanted to kick and scream and cry, but her body wasn’t responding to her. She sniffed repeatedly, focusing on trying to stop the mucus oozing from her nose. She didn’t want to taste it. She wiped it away with the corner of her blanket. She felt sweaty and dirty and disgusting. She raised her hand and passed it through her hair. How could she have possibly perspired this much? She looked at her hand. She stopped. The world dimmed around her as she saw blood on her hands…

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