365 First Drafts

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Everlasting Life

The first shots of gunfire came in shortly after Anton made his way into one of the city’s worst hit districts. He was walking down a main road, assessing the damage done to the residential zone there when sniper fire began to pepper his position. He immediately scrambled to cover, but wasn’t sure whether he should plan on retaliating against the shooter or not.

Those might be survivors, he thought. They might be all that’s left of Hoop.

Anton readied the action on his Vektor and began to slink along the tenement buildings, using them as cover. From one heap of rubble to the next, he moved swiftly and quietly.

He spotted the iridescent eyes of a cat staring at him from under the husk of a demolished car nearby. Until the firing had started, Anton believed the only things alive here were the strays. Animals without a home.

Scanning the immediate area from the cover of a half demolished apartment building, he spotted the remains of an office building a few blocks down. He waited a few minutes before moving that way, cautiously. The firing had stopped, but Anton knew that didn’t mean anything. Any sniper worth their salt was going to be patient.

He breathed a sigh of relief when he reached the base of the building. Much of the frame had been stripped away and now the only things visible happened to be some of the interior floors. Some looked out in the direction of the gunfire and the rest of the city. Anton hoped the vantage point would be sufficient to identify his shooters and also help him plan his next move.

Climbing through the debris, he noted the various bodies that lined the lobby and subsequent floors. Secretaries, mail clerks, maintenance workers–all of them dead. Judging by the looks on their faces and the strange odor that permeated the building and the immediate area around it, these people were gassed to death.

Anton wrapped his bandana around his face as he proceeded further into the building and up the stairways. Large blast holes throughout the building seemed to suggest that the gas was brought on from aerial assaults of some kind.

It was reasonable to imagine that the NP must have used drones to drop gas all over Hoop, incapacitating the city right before sending in troops. This was a new tactic for them. Never before had they resorted to using chemical weapons.

If they were resorting to this, he thought, then the resistance were making more progress than anyone could have anticipated.

To his knowledge, chemical weapons were still considered illegal conventions of war by the League of Nations. If he could provide proof to an international court of justice that the National Party was using chemical weapons against their own people, it might signal the beginning of a resurgence for the Resistance Campaign’s struggle against their oppressors.

That’s if I can manage to get out of here alive, he thought.

Squeezing through a twisted metal door that led to an emergency staircase, Anton made his way up to the sixth floor of the building and sought cover behind a turned over desk near a set of blown out windows.

He slung the Vektor around his shoulders and produced his set of binoculars. Using them, he scanned the other buildings in the surrounding area, making sure he did so under the cover of shade. He watched and waited patiently for hours before he finally spotted movement several city blocks away at a high rise that was still mostly intact.

Adjusting the lens on his binocs, he spotted the sniper moving down and away from his field of vision. Anton’s teeth gritted together when he was able to make out the sniper’s NP uniform. These were stay behind forces, he realized. And where there was one, there was bound to be many, many more scattered around the city.

“It’s over,” he breathed out loud. “We’re finished.”

“Not over just yet,” someone said from nearby.

Anton snapped to his feet and readied his Vektor, bringing it to bear. Moving slowly and cautiously, he made his way to the hallway outside where he had heard the voice.

“Let’s see your hands,” he ordered when he spotted the man in the dark suit standing in the shadows.

“C’mon, is there a point to this, really?” the man said.

Anton aimed at the man’s head, finger on the trigger. “I’m not going to ask you again.”

The man walked toward Anton, hands in his pockets. The resistance fighter lowered the weapon and fired at the man’s left leg, the echo reverberating throughout the hallway like a small thunderclap. Anton’s eyes widened in surprise when he realized that though he had made the shot, nothing happened to the stranger.

The man came face to face with Anton and held out his arms. “I’m not really here, pal. Sorry. I’m in your head.”

“That’s not possible. You’re a ghost,” Anton reasoned, backing away.

“Kinda sorta. Not really. Look, I need you to remember, ok?” the man said. “Do you remember the other times you died?”

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Everlasting Life

She arrived at her school, during recess. The feeling brought on by other memory caused her to shake uncontrollably and slump to the floor.

Hundreds of children playing and screaming barely noticed her lying there enough to go around. Only a few stopped to see if she was okay. Nathan was one of them.

When she opened her eyes next, Shelly felt like she was waking up from a dream. Tears began to surface quickly from her disorientation.

“Shelly,” her brother kept repeating. “Shelly. What’s wrong?”

“I don’t know…I don’t feel so good,” she said.

Nathan helped her off the floor and, slinging an arm around his shoulder, walked her to the bus waiting outside by the curb. As they neared their ride home, the cloud of confusion around her dispersed and she remembered.

“I wanna talk to mom,” she said, sniffling.

Nathan looked on as Shelly straightened in his arms, shouldered her backpack and boarded the bus. He shrugged and went up the steps himself, wondering what had just happened.

They sat together as they usually did with Shelly sitting by the window. Once the rest of the kids boarded the bus, it roared to life and began to slowly barrel down the street.

“Maybe you got those seizures,” he offered on the ride home. “Like aunt June.”

Shelly didn’t say anything and just looked out the window. Her eyes widened when she saw a blue ford zoom past alongside the bus as they entered the housing complex she and Nathan lived in. She remembered that car.

An instant flash of memory made its way to her brain. She recalled the bent frame of her bike, the blood on its windshield. Her blood. The young teenager who drove the car’s face and his long hair. The reddish lights that came later in between her lapses of consciousness. People screaming and yelling, trying to get her to live. Machines that made strange sounds. All that before everything went completely dark.

“That’s him,” she said, rising from her seat and pointing the car out to her brother.

“That’s what?” Nathan asked, trying to get a look.

“Stay in your seats,” the bus driver warned.

“Sit down. You’re gonna get us in trouble,” Nathan whispered. He placed his hands on her shoulders and eased her back into her seat. She didn’t resist.

She thought for a moment that maybe she had just dreamed the whole thing up. But to her the entire experience of dying was much too real. Her dreams were much more whimsical and fantastical than what she experienced.

The car sped ahead of where the bus was turning and disappeared behind the curve. The same stretch of road where Shelly remembered being run over.

Nathan sought to catch up with Shelly as she ran out of the bus when it reached their stop.

“What are you doing?” Nathan asked, panting behind her. “You can’t get in without the keys.”

Shelly looked at the set of keys that hung around her brother’s neck and checked her own pockets for the set she had. Nothing. Milf panic began to settle in as she realized that she had somehow lost the keys her parents had given her. Keys that she never before had lost.

“I lost my keys,” she said, tears beginning to flood her eyes again. “I got hurt and I lost my keys and I want my bike!”

“What bike?” Nathan said, undoing the lock on the front door.

Shelly pulled the door open and ran inside, quickly making her way to the garage. She was surprised by the large dog that barked and stood in the center of the living room.

Shelly stopped, paralyzed. What was this dog doing in their house?

It growled at her, at first, baring its long canines. Then it licked its lips and began to saunter over to sniff her.

“Hey Munch,” Nathan said, rushing over to pet the large retriever.

Shelly didn’t even bother to ask. She was in full panic mode as she ran into the garage to where her bike was kept. Which, of course, was not there at all. When she flipped on the light switch, she saw the man in the dark suit standing there instead.

“Hey Shelly,” he said matter of factly. “We really should talk now.”

Last Days

He thought about the last days from time to time. Usually when he laid down and couldn’t sleep. When he looked into a sky where the stars were occluded by thick dark clouds. The braying of the dogs in the distance made him remember. They made him remember about Toby. He was a mixed breed. Large and black with sad eyes.

For a moment, he entertained the thought of what Toby would be like now. What he would be up to in his day to day. Always without him, however. When he imagined the what ifs, they never included him. He never wondered why.

He’d be out there right now barking and scrounging with the rest of them, he thought. Mud and dirt caked on his shaggy pelt, occasionally picking at scabs on his legs from fighting with the other dogs. Dried blood around the eye from one really bad one. Surviving.

Just like me, he thought. Surviving in this thing.

He remembered before. Days that were filled with fire and smoke. There was a silent chaos to what was happening. Like every day up to that point we were these little cockroaches scuttling around everywhere until someone woke up and turned the lights on overhead. Suddenly, everyone was running or playing dead. No words, no screaming. Just constant desperation. A mass scattering. It filled their heads like a fever, running and hiding for days on end. Never stopping for too long.

You could never stop to look at the bodies when you were moving. Some of them died with their eyes open and would just look back at you. Always with the same question hanging around their blank expressions. Why? Why me? He would dream about them sometimes and later try to imagine who they were. Who were they? Would they have liked him? What were their names?

Out there, people didn’t have names anymore. There was really no point anymore. Not with so few people around, their families gone forever. You were who you were and that was all. Shoulder the past and move forward to honor the dead. Defiance of your fate was your only real weapon. Life, he felt, finally meant something. To live.

Eventually, however, he knew that he would be dead soon enough. It was just a matter of time. Even with the Titans resting after the destruction of the cities, there were others out there who revered them. Traitors. They commanded strange powers and control over the faceless ones. Some of them moved and camped during the day and summoned the dark ones at night to hunt for prey. Traitors ate their own kind. Cannibals, they were called by many. But really, he thought, what choice did they have?

Most food had gone bad. Rotted. Unless you were lucky enough to find a place to farm your own food, hunt or collect your own rainwater, it was eat whatever you could or starve. Some couldn’t go through with it. They couldn’t trade their humanity for another day hiding in bombed out buildings or making camp in subway tunnels. Usually that meant one of two things; eat a bullet or death by traitors.

You didn’t want to die by traitor. Everyone knew that. They wouldn’t kill you–not right away. To make you last, many times they kept you locked away somewhere dark and confined. They’d give you only what they needed just to keep you alive. Feed you a little here and there. Scraps. Then they would come for you with a blade in their hand and take something from you. Something small at first, like a finger or toe. Over time, they would come back for other things until there wasn’t much left of you.

At what point do you cease being human? These were the questions that kept cropping up whenever he thought about the last days. Specifically, whenever he thought about traitors and their pets. The question was mainly directed at the bloodthirsty cannibals but also applied to the poor souls who had become their food.

Everlasting Life

He arrived at the back of taxi cab during rush hour, car horns blasting off in a symphony of impatience. The driver honked his own horn at the stalling minivan ahead of him and threw his hands up, cursing.

Hanzo looked around and stared at the woman seated next to him. It was Meisa. Dressed in a sunflower dress, sunglasses and a large brimmed beige hat, she gazed at the long line of cars outside her window, bored.

Realizing that no one was paying any attention to him, Hanzo shook his head, convinced that he was dreaming. Checking a cheap watch on his hand, he saw that it was just past noon. There were fingerprint marks on the passenger side window. He could count the number of springs he saw from the damaged upholstery on the back of the front passenger’s seat.

As a wave of confusion washed over him, Hanzo doubled over in his seat and grabbed his head. Memories he never had flooded his mind. Meisa was alive. Her father hadn’t died yet, which meant she hadn’t yet inherited his money. Which meant, by extension, that they weren’t rich. But they used to be. He remembered that.

“Are you…?” she began, concern on her face.

Once the confusion was over, Hanzo sat up and found himself to be alive in another life. A life he had never lived before. He stared again at Meisa, who was looking at him somewhat worriedly.

“Are you alright?” she asked.

He didn’t know what to say. Reaching up, he gingerly cupped her face with his hands and watched her recoil some. There was some residual anger there from something recent.

Of course, he thought. I forgot where we were going.

Hanzo and Meisa were on their way to their ward office to see a judge and mediator. Today they were going to file for a mutual consent divorce.

“Am I dreaming?” he asked her.

She said nothing, at first, then turned to stare out the window again. “You are if you think you’re going to get anything from me.”

“This is all wrong,” he said, his heart sinking. “You’re supposed to be dead.”

She turned and looked at him sharply, saying nothing.

Hearing snippets of the conversation amidst the honking, the cab driver glanced in his rear view at them and pulled around a string of cars, exiting the highway.

“The freeway’s backed up for miles,” he explained. “I’m going to cut through downtown. Faster this way.”

“You’re unbelievable, you know that?” she said, shaking her head. “Maybe my father was right. Maybe you did marry me for our wealth.”

Hanzo looked at his wrinkled hands and then out his window. If this was real, he felt, then he had woken up to a living nightmare.

“Hey Hanz,” the man’s voice came from the front of the cab.

Looking up from his hands, Hanzo saw the man from his dream sitting in the passenger seat. He was dressed the same way as before and was wearing sunglasses like the ones the taxi driver wore.

“Sorry you had to die back there,” he said. “Sucks how you went bonkers after Meisa’s death. Been there before and I wish I could tell you that it gets easier, because it doesn’t.”

Hanzo glanced between the man in the front seat, Meisa and the taxi driver. No one acknowledged the fact that he was there.

“I think I’ve lost my mind,” Hanzo said.

“Finally,” Meisa said, her gaze never leaving her window. “We can agree on something.”

“No, man,” the stranger said. “You were crazy before. Now you’re just miserable. If it’s any consolation, I’ve been around that block a few times. And trust me–my ex-wife is much scarier than yours.”

“I don’t want a divorce,” Hanzo said. “I love her.”

Both the taxi driver and Meisa looked at one another in the rear view, both unsure as to who Hanzo was speaking to. The driver decided to ignore getting involved in a couple’s spat and focused on getting to the ward office.

Meisa decided that he was speaking out loud and eyed him suspiciously. “It’s too late for that. You’ve made your bed and now you’re going to sleep in it.”

“I know, man,” the stranger said. “Love hurts, what can I say? But listen, we get another shot at things. You and a couple other people. I can help you with that, but first you gotta do me a solid.”

Hanzo wasn’t waking up from this nightmare, he realized. He closed his eyes and sighed. “Who are you and what do you want?”

The driver kept looking worriedly at Hanzo. Meisa glanced over, frowned and shook her head.

“Who I am isn’t important,” stranger said, extending a hand to Hanzo. “What is important is that you let me in and do what I tell you to do. Do you think you can do that?”

“You speak very good Japanese for an American,” Hanzo said, halfheartedly taking the stranger’s hand. “What do you mean let me in?”

“Your mind,” stranger said. “Well I’m already there, but I think need you to accept me. If it worked for the little girl, it should work for you too. Don’t worry, we’re just going to take a little trip.”

The stranger held on to Hanzo’s hand and wouldn’t let go.

Hanzo’s brows furrowed. “I don’t understand. Where are we going?”

The taxi driver looked somewhat uncertain. “The ward office…?”

“Pay no attention to him,” Meisa said. “He’s clearly lost his mind.”

The stranger smiled, eyeing the other two people in the cab. “We’re going to the Nowhere to meet up with the others. But first, I need you to die. Again.”

Everlasting Life

She thought about dying. Thought about it everyday. From the moment her head hit the pillow to the moment her eyes fluttered open, she obsessed about leaving this world and seeing what lay beyond.

She toyed with the idea of taking her own life, just to spite her parents and all the people who thought that she should live a virtuous life just because of her namesake.

It had been months since she lost her right hand and for months Fatimah had fallen into a pit of melancholy and despair because of her actions. The guilt and embarrassment that came with the obvious pain of losing a limb was too overwhelming for her.

For months afterward, Fatimah had lost her identity. Instead of being the defiant and blasphemous teenager that she used to be, she became pliable. Compliant.

Her parents took possession of her phone and computer and now required her to wear a niqab whenever she set foot outside their home.

“It is for your protection as well as ours,” he father had insisted. “Besides, you’ve disgraced this family enough.”

“You are lucky,” her mother reminded her. “Lucky that your uncles haven’t heard of your crimes. They would be the ones who would kill you for something like that.”

She stared blankly at everything and everyone and just did whatever everyone else wanted her to do. Feeling betrayed by her family who supported the judge’s decision to pass her sentence, it seemed that her entire world had been turned upside down.

Fatimah was in a cycle of depression whose end was unforeseeable. It would have gone on until the end of her life if it were not for Ali.

Passing by her room and taking a curious look through the crack in the door, he saw her one night sitting on her bed dressed in her niqab. She didn’t move or cry. She just sat there in the dark, breathing. He knocked, walked in and sat with her for a few moments.

At first, he didn’t say anything. He sat with her and soaked up the quiet before he placed a reassuring hand on her shoulder and squeezed.

“I’m right here, you know?” he said.

She turned to face him and looked into his eyes through the slit in her niqab, tears rolling silently down her face.

He leaned in and hugged her. She collapsed into his arms, sobbing and shaking.

Everlasting Life

He dreamed of other worlds. Places where he was still the same person but the world around him was different, somehow. In these worlds those you lost were returned to you.

Your best friend who passed away was back and crashing on your couch again. Your father never ran out on you and offered you advice over morning coffee. Mandela didn’t die and instead came to lead your country into a new era.

Somewhere in there was a man. Blurry. Young, maybe? His voice was distorted and every time Anton passed him on the streets or saw him on a reflective surface he said the same thing over and over again. “When you die, find the others.”

It was just before dawn when the rumbling from the distant mortar fire startled him awake. Collecting his thoughts, Anton scrambled to his feet and began collecting his gear from within the confines of the tent.

Throwing the flap open, he positioned himself behind what cover he could find nearby and scanned the horizon with his night vision binocs. Judging by the flashes of light he saw in the distance behind a large hillside, Anton figured there was fighting in Toevlug.

They’re getting closer, he thought.

The NP appeared to be heading towards Hoop with the intentions to finally crush the resistance. From the sounds of it, they were successfully destroying the foothold the resistance campaign had in places like Toevlug and were only gaining momentum with every target they took down.

He didn’t waste any time in breaking down the tent and packing up the rest of his gear. He slung the pack over his shoulders, gripped the Vektor R4 closely to his body and began to hoof it to Hoop.

As he made his way cautiously along the arid hillsides, Anton looked to the skies and listened for the buzzing sounds that he came to associate with drone aircraft. A gift from the Americans, he remembered having lost many of his fellow soldiers to air to ground missile attacks that were launched from one kind of unmanned aerial vehicle or another.

By the time he reached a high bluff overlooking the plains where Hoop resided the sun was high overhead and the sounds of warfare had faded and died away miles away. Anton figured that Hoop had a day at best before the rest of the NP’s machine made its way there. Not enough time to evacuate everyone, he imagined, but perhaps enough time to mount an offensive and buy their plan some time to get mobilised.

These thoughts dissipated the moment he looked out over the plains to see the demolished ruins of Hoop.

Anton’s heart sank and he nearly dropped his weapon when he saw the city that served as the home for the resistance campaign against the NP was completely devoid of life. He stared at it for a few minutes, shock and disbelief on his face.

The highways were free of any traffic and home to husks of burned out cars and military vehicles that were established as part of a blockade action. Bodies were strewn along the roads leading into the city.

How did they know where to strike? he thought.

Looking through his binoculars, he spotted what looked like movements along the ruins of what was downtown. With no signs of smoketrails, Anton imagined that the assault must had taken place days or weeks ago. Coming to Hoop was something the NP had probably counted on when planning to strike the source of the resistance.

Feeling the need to see Hoop, what was left of it, at least, Anton began to pick his way down from the hillside. Reaching the long and abandoned highways, he climbed over the concrete barriers and made the long trek into the city limits.

Everlasting Life

“We need to go back,” Nathan said. “It’s getting late.”

Shelly didn’t say anything and instead continued to ride her bike along the sidewalk, leaving her brother behind.

“You’re going to get grounded!” he yelled as he rode back to their house.

She didn’t care. Mostly because any punishment received for having this much fun–this much freedom–was, in her mind, totally worth it. Riding her bicycle was one of the few things that brought Shelly any real joy.

School wasn’t fun anymore, she didn’t have many friends, mommy and daddy still argued some days. This was in addition to the other people who lived in her head that argued with one another and tried to tell her what to do.

Sometimes they would appear outside of her head and try to goad her into doing what they wanted. When she tried to explain this to her parents, that’s when they told her about devils and the angels.

“Everyone has a devil and an angel sitting on their shoulders,” her mother explained. “Our little devils try to get us to do things we don’t want to–or shouldn’t–do, while our angel asks us to do the right thing.”

“Like in the cartoons?” Shelly asked.

“Just like that, yes,” Mommy said, smiling. “Remember to always do the right thing, Shelly bean.”

She rode her bike along the sidewalk that snaked around the back end of the housing development. The path followed the two lane road around a blind curve that spilled out into a large construction area that went on for miles. Nathan had nicknamed it ‘the graveyard’ and was one of the few places they were not allowed to go.

As she rode along, she looked up and saw a man in a dark suit standing in her way. She knew him as a devil and avoided looking into his eyes as much as she ignored anything he said.

“You know you’re not supposed to ride out this way,” the man said. “It’s starting to get dark. You know what that means.”

Shelly closed her eyes and held her breath as she passed through him. Once she felt the ghostly feel of the man’s jacket tickle the sides and back of her neck, she opened her eyes and let out a breath, peddling faster. Despite her curiosity, she never looked back to see if he was still there or not.

There was always a general sense of fear about going around the blind curve towards the graveyard. The sidewalk ended right before reaching the corner house due to the cul de sac that intersected with its driveway. There was also the issue of speeding cars.

Sometimes there was no way to know if a car was coming until they were right there, turning. The best time to know for sure, ironically, was later at night when everyone’s daytime lights would automatically shine out ahead of them. But at five or six in the evening it was much harder to tell.

She tended to stay as close to the side of the corner house’s wooden fence as possible and she listened closely for any signs of oncoming traffic.

The last time Shelly had gone with her brother to the graveyard, Nathan had clambered up the side and to the top of a bulldozer. He offered for her to do the same. Too afraid to fall, she declined–saying that she didn’t feel like doing that. He teased her about being a chicken and eased himself down safely.

This time around she was determined to prove him wrong. It didn’t matter if he wasn’t there to see her do it or not.

Riding through the debris and dirt of the graveyard, Shelly stopped before the bulldozer and looked it over for a minute before extending her kickstand and getting closer to inspect it. Remembering how Nathan had done it, she reached her arms up to grab a hold of the dozer’s treads and used that leverage to pull herself up. After several tries, she managed to get her little legs over the edge of the tread belt.

She dusted herself off and began to explore the cabin and play pretend while on top of it. Before she realized what time it was, it had already grown dark outside. Slowly getting down from her vantage point, she climbed back onto her bike and began to ride back to the house in a hurry.

Tracing her path the same way she came, she saw the devil again on the corner. As she approached, she again closed her eyes and began talking over his words, never hearing what he said.

She never saw the speeding car coming up behind her along the blind curve.

Everlasting Life

Mornings always began with ritual.

Water was first drawn in the shower and left running until it was hot enough to steam the mirrors with the door closed.

Next came preparation of the tea. Three cubes of sugar and a teaspoon of honey. Despite the arthritis, his hands never wavered or shook when he prepared his morning tea. His doctors told him that it was due to muscle memory. He found that amusing, considering his condition.

He watched the cubes melt into the hot tea as he poured it into his cup. The honey disappeared in a swirl as he stirred the cup with his spoon, the motion hypnotizing his eyes.

Blinking his eyes, he looked around until he saw the signs on the cabinets and doorways: “Prepare the water, prepare the tea, drink the tea, shower, dress and prepare for work.” He looked down and saw that the tea had already grown cold.

“Shit,” he sighed before shuffling back to the bathroom to shower. It was going to be one of those days again.

Disrobing as he re-entered the bathroom, he turned and waved at the blurry image of the man in the mirror. As he expected, the man stood there and waved back.

“You need to find the others, Hanz,” the man in the mirror said. “Nothing else is going to happen without them.”

“Okay,” he replied in his best english. “See you later.”

Opening the sliding glass door, Hanzo climbed into the hot shower and rinsed himself clean with the warm waters.

He stepped before the mirror after toweling off and wiped away part of the condensation, revealing another younger man staring back at him.

“I’m going to ride the train today,” Hanzo said excitedly in japanese.

“You always say that,” the man replied. “You always do that. Every morning, without fail.”

Hanzo nodded, smiled and walked out of the bathroom and into a massive walk-in closet filled with hundreds of shoes and outfits. There was a full length mirror every ten feet, allowing Hanzo to get a good look at himself before he went off to work.

He selected the Ernesto Zegba Bespoke gray suit with the pinstripes and began going through the drawers to select his undergarments. His mind became lost staring at all the hundreds of different colors and patterns available.

“Jesus, you’re really fucking crazy aren’t you?” the man in the mirror asked.

His attention snapping back to the present, he smiled a little and finally chose a dark pair of expensive socks and boxer shorts.

“Crazy? No. Better now,” Hanzo said with some confidence, causing the other man to shake his head slowly in disbelief.

“Yeah, I’ll believe that shit when I see it.”

When he was finally dressed, Hanzo grabbed his wallet and phone that sat on a small table by the front door.

The car was already sitting at the curb of the cul de sac, ready and waiting for him to enter.

“Ready for work, Mr. Tugaraki?” Taji, his chauffeur called from inside the car.

Hanzo waved, smiled and entered the back of the car. “Always ready,” he said.

His mind wavered as he stared at the skyline in the distance, not noticing the man in the mirror talking to him again.

“Don’t take your crazy pills this time, Hanz,” he said with the older man barely registering that he was being addressed, much less being told what to do. “They make this kind of shit harder for the both of us.”

Another part of the ritual revealed itself when Taji’s voice came through the intercom. “Sir, your meds are in the drink holder in front of you.”

Suddenly remembering the meds, Hanzo unstoppered the lid, isolated two capsules and popped them into his mouth. He downed them dryly, closing his eyes and trying to envision a world without the strange things he kept seeing and hearing.

They’re just in your head, he kept telling himself. None of these people are real.

“Why don’t you just take the meds first thing in the morning, genius,” I asked him from his reflection in the rear passenger window.

“Trying…get better,” he offered.

“Yeah, I know what you mean,” Taji said, unaware that he was carrying on a separate conversation altogether.

The drugs were taking an effect, he noticed, when he finally arrived at work. Taji dropped him off at the side entrance where an armed guard stood watching everyone who approached and checking their ID passes.

Upon sight of him, the guard stepped aside and called the elevator for him.

Hazo made his way through the building’s corridors, offices and break rooms, greeting many of his employees cheerily as he went. He stopped only in the men’s restroom briefly to look in the mirror and wash his hands and face.

The man in the mirror said nothing, knowing what was about to happen next. Hanzo stared back for a long moment before finally responding.

“I getting better,” he said in a definitive tone before turning around and walking back onto the cubicle farm on the twentieth floor. Two other men by the sinks looked at one another in confusion.

One manager after another walked up to Hanzo and either complimented him on his suit or went on about one business matter or another. Tugaraki simply nodded and smiled, seeming to take very little interest in anything other than just his stroll through the office.

Seeing the large wall of glass on the far end of the corridor, Hanzo began to launch into a dead run. Smiling and waving as he went, Hanzo Tugaraki leapt through the glass, shattering it instantly.

Everything seemed to slow down and freeze as he fell through the air towards the sprawl of New Tokyo below. He closed his eyes and savored what little silence he still could even if, deep down, he knew that this would never end for him.

“See you next time, Hanz,” I said. “See you in the next one.”

Everlasting Life

Fatimah in Arabic means “the daughter of the Prophet Muhammad”.

Everyone in her life always made a point to remind her of that. It was a daunting bar of expectation that seemed to rise higher every year.

“How could you dress that way?” her mother said once. “You’re shaming your namesake, child.”

“There’s nothing perfect about you, girl!” her brother used to tease.

“I thought girls named Fatimah were supposed to be more respectful,” the case officer said during her first arrest. “You’re lucky, in another time we would have cut your hand off for stealing. Now you just get a few lashes.”

“Whatever,” she said before telling him to eat shit and die.

Fatimah wasn’t like most girls in Saudi. Most girls at sixteen didn’t receive twenty lashes for shoplifting eyeliner and a candybar. It was five, originally, but the judge added fifteen more for what she said to the case officer. And to the judge.

They weren’t the only ones who were outraged by her behavior, however.

Many of the people attending the gathering were shocked and not just because of the punishment or the fact that it was being carried out against someone so young. No, they were shocked because she laughed when she received her punishment. It was an odd mixture of loud screaming and laughter that no one was really prepared to hear. An odd response from an odd girl, many would say later.

A video of the event made its way online. In it, Fatimah was dressed in her yellow hijab while a man in a black balaclava and a long beige salwar kameez presided over her punishment and administered the lashes with a short wooden whip.

She spent a week in her room after word got around about “the girl who laughs”.

Threats of rape and death followed. There were letters stuffed under the front door of the house, the occasional rock coming through the living room window or the phone calls at random times where a man would scream at her and call her a whore. To say nothing of the emails and the comments that existed anywhere the video was posted.

But Fatimah was different than most girls her age. After a week of hibernating in her room, she left a different person.

She was someone who felt emboldened by the outrage of others around them. In America, they would have called her a “rageaholic”. In France, they may have called her a provocateur. In Saudi, they just called her blasphemous.

She found courage online from some who didn’t condemn her for what she did or how she reacted to it. Foreigners, mainly. Many of them girls her age or older.

“Be yourself,” said MPhilly1968. “And don’t apologize to anyone for it.”

She began dressing differently. Her hijab gone, she would leave the house in v-neck shirts, tank tops and torn jeans. The typical make-up she wore was gone, now replaced with black lipstick, heavy eyeshadow and foundation that gave her paler complexion.

At first she was able to get away with looking like that in public since she stuck to leaving mostly at night when her parents were asleep. A few people made comments here and there but there were no major confrontations on the streets. It was different when, months later, she went out in broad daylight.

Her brother, Ali, tried to stop her before she left the house. First he demanded to know what she was doing “going outside like that.”

“This is me,” she said. “Fucking deal with it, ok?”

“You’re going to get whipped again!” he yelled after her.

Not good enough, she thought. The daughter of Muhammad had to do better.

On her seventeenth birthday, Fatimah was accosted by a group of men and women at a local market square when she broke into a parked car and tried to steal it. Using a rock wrapped in her hijab, she shattered the car’s driver’s side window. This immediately activated the car’s alarm, temporarily paralyzing her with surprise.

That wasn’t supposed to happen, she thought.

She climbed into the driver’s seat after overcoming some of her fear and began looking at the fuse box underneath the steering wheel but stopped and quickly looked up and over the dashboard when she heard the sounds of shouting. There were people standing and looking in her direction. Fatimah decided to ignore them and step up her efforts to start the car.

The beeping that the alarm emitted brought on a flash of memory and a strange sense of deja vu. It stopped her again after she found the two wires she needed. She remembered being in some kind of accident, she wasn’t sure. Impossible, since like most women in Saudi, she never drove anywhere because of the law that prohibited her from doing so.

Someone pulled her out of the car and threw her onto the floor as she had begun scraping together the two wires needed to hot wire the Audi.

An altercation followed involving the owner, the owner’s brother and his wife.

Fatimah left the woman with stitches along the bridge of her nose and bottom lip. The brother’s finger had been fractured and the owner suffered contusions to his groin and face, robbing him of a few teeth. Fatimah herself was beaten bloody, some of her clothes having been torn off of her body.

Later, at the police station, the same desk officer from before stared at her bloodied face as she was carried into the station by two officers, arm-in-arm, her clothes in tatters. She smiled through bloody teeth at him as they brought her directly to detainment.

Weeks later, a new video was posted online. The title read “BLASPHEMOUS LAUGHING THIEF WHORE LOSES HAND”. In it, Fatimah screamed and cried.

“If Fatimah the daughter of Muhammad stole, I will have her hand cut off.”
Bukhari Vol. 4 : No. 681

Everlasting Life

The walk from Johannesburg had all but broken Anton’s spirit. Leaving the city was difficult in and of itself, but watching the others fall to the Afrikaner Corps’ weapons had almost destroyed his willingness to keep going.

He walked along deserted dirt roads, away from the main ones that lead into the cities, and made a game of counting the pieces of trash and debris he found along the way. It was more of a way to distract himself from thinking about what had happened just a few days ago.

After the crackdown they lost two day laborers trying to get out of Soweto. The NP’s police were scouring the streets, shooting at anyone out past curfew. He blamed himself for that.

The others had insisted on waiting until the days following the riots to slip out of the city and make the trek to Hoop. But Anton was convinced that if they didn’t make an attempt to get out of the city soon, they would all get rounded up eventually following one raid or another. For him it was only a matter of time.

Looking at the crumpled rusted cans lining the side of the path, Anton was reminded of the bodies he saw strewn by the wayside when he and his family had first made the trip to Johannesburg.

The bus was packed to near capacity, forcing his family to sit or stand in different areas apart from one another. By the grace of a stranger’s kindness, Anton and his father were offered the opportunity to sit with one another. Anton excitedly sat next to the window and looked out for the majority of the trip. He slept through most of it, until the reports of gunfire ahead woke him from his sleep.

When the bodies began to come into view, his father, a survivor of Sophiatown, placed his calloused hands over little Anton’s eyes, trying to shield him from the sight. But Anton never closed his eyes. Instead, he gently pulled on his father’s hand and peeked through a gap in his fingers, catching sight of fire, blood and the unmistakable Afrikaner Corps uniforms. A hush fell over the entire bus as everyone realized that they weren’t looking at someone else’s unfortunate fate as much as they were looking at their own possible futures.

Anton closed his eyes, trying to block out the memory. His body exhausted, his mind began to wander as he continued to march. The thunderous scream of a tortured man forced him to snap open his eyes and spring to attention. When he looked around, however, he saw or heard nothing.

Another waking dream, he thought. Am I losing my mind out here?

He ultimately decided that he was becoming somewhat delirious, having walked for a day without food. He stopped to urinate when he spotted a bent, broken and rusted metal drum near a cloister of bushes and weeds. Feeling the need to rest, he pulled a tattered rag he found among the debris and laid on it behind the bushes. Laying in the shadows, Anton tried to busy his thoughts by thinking about reaching Hoop.

To the English, Hoop sounded like a silly name for a town until they understood that the word meant hope in Afrikaans and that it was one of the only places where colored people were allowed to govern themselves in South Africa. Of course, when the National Party granted Hoop that sort of autonomy they also stripped anyone living there of their South African citizenship.

This didn’t change anything for Anton, who grew up never feeling like he belonged in his own country. To him, there was still hope to be had in Hoop, since it was also where Anton and his allies were receiving support for their actions in Johannesburg.

He thought about the others. Made up of street urchins, trade union laborers and farmers–most of them kids–the fourteen had gotten it in their heads that they could fight the NP at their own game. They would unite at the heart of South Africa and they would create a resistance so fierce that no one would be able to ignore them or their message ever again. Moved by their courage and recognizing their struggle as his own, Anton joined them almost immediately.

Leading up to the recent riots in Soweto, the rumor from Hoop had been that something big was going to happen. Talk of thousands of marchers taking up arms against the NP in the areas west of Johannesburg was the boldest rhetoric he had heard since Mandela’s assassination. He believed, along with many others, that this was a necessary action they needed to take in order to triumph over apartheid.

He thought about the others and how they would have wanted to be part of something like that. Anton would do this for them. He would survive the trip to Hoop, alone if he had to, and start a fire for the cause.