I’m almost better, yay! Still a bit sick, but another day or two and I should be fine.
I haven’t been up to much, watching TV, wallowing in illness, and having a super fun time while doing it! (Is the sarcasm really obvious there?)
On with the show!
Doug stood in the staging area, trying to calm himself. Around him army personnel busied themselves doing god only knew what. Finally, one stopped their preparation and moved towards him, “Ok, you know the drill right?”
Doug nodded, once, he looked far too pale.
“Just relax ok. You won’t feel it going in. I swear.”
Doug nodded again, he opened his mouth to speak, then closed it.
“I know it sounds scary, you’re the first civilian inside since the wall came down, but it isn’t that bad. I’ve been in and out loads of times.”
Doug stared at the gate. It was unremarkable really. About eight foot high, made of the same stone-like material as the rest of the wall, it was shaped in an arch, on the two doors there were slight swirling designs, marking it as different from the rest of the walls.
A door slammed behind him, making Doug jump, one of the army guys sniggered, Doug didn’t notice.
“Ok, all clear?”
a chorus of “clear” echoed around the staging room. One of the men, no, not a man, a woman, stepped forward and placed a hang onto the handle, then, she pulled. Doug tried not to scream, to tell her to stop, that she was crazy, that she’d kill them all. Doug was tough, he was the calm one, yet his mind still screamed in fear. He took a breath, then clutched his bag tighter, trying to control the shaking. The door swung open, revealing what was on the other side. It was a room, just like the one he was in. So far so good. The army guy that had spoken before stepped beside Doug and gently guided him forward. Together, they and another army guy walked into the room. The door swung closed behind them. Silence fell over the room.
“I though we were meeting someone here.” Doug was proud that his voice remained mostly steady.
“We are. Look dude, it happens to everyone. Something about the door screams “Back the fuck off.” We’re not sure why, but it seriously isn’t that bad in here. It’s actually kinda nice sometimes.”
The door in the staging room opened, a young man entered, wearing jeans and a t-shirt. Doug’s heart began to slow, no longer pounding a deep, heavy rhythm in his chest. The guy looked, well, normal, black hair cut stylishly, blue eyes, his skin still holding a faint summers tan, he had a steady, easy grin as he entered. The guy and the army men started to chat like old friends. In the run up to entering the place Doug hadn’t remembered anyone’s names. It hadn’t seemed important, the only thing that mattered was the deep, grinding fear. The man stepped forward to Doug and stuck out a hand,
“Hi, I’m Max, you must be Doug. We’re glad to have you here.”
Doug shook Max’s hand and smiled.
“I hear going through that takes some getting used to. I’m not surprised, all the propaganda I’ve seen about this place, I’d probably be pissing myself if I had to go through. Don’t worry though, we’re a friendly bunch.
“All right lads, we’re off, see you in a few days.”
Max placed a friendly hand on Doug’s shoulder and began to steer him towards the door, outside. Doug knew it was silly, but he stilled held his breath as the door was opened, what it revealed shocked him.
It was a normal looking street, almost identical to the one he had left behind outside. Max smiled at him, “Thought it would be all craters and burnt buildings, yeah?”
Doug nodded, “Yeah, I mean, I just assumed.”
“It’s all right, I don’t blame you. We’re actually quite safe in here. Safer than outside I’d wager. Right. We’ll go to my office first, it’s high up, has a view of the place, you can get your bearings. After that I think we should grab a spot of lunch somewhere. Have you eaten yet?”
“No, I skipped breakfast.”
“No shame, that, I’ve seen a few of those tough army guys lose their breakfast on the way in. Once we eat we can have a bit of a wander, say hi to a few people.”
Max started to walk and Doug hurried to keep up with him, “So, what exactly are you doing here?”
“Well, what did they tell you you’d be doing.”
“Have a look around, write a story about the place.”
“Yeah, yeah, I got that spiel too. I mean how much are you supposed to lie?”
“Uhh, I’m not. It’s a visit and a few articles on my experience inside.”
Max smiled at him, “Just wait until you get back, you’ll find they’ll want you to fudge a few things here and there. We’re a dangerous bunch to them. We may not look it, but we are. They’ll want to be able to nuke us if things go wrong. I tried explaining it to the higher ups before, but I might as well tell you, nuking won’t do a damn thing to this place.”
With that Max stepped into an office building. Doug followed, surprised that there were working lights inside. The place was clean and welcoming. A woman sat at the front desk, she was reading a book.
“Anyone waiting for me?”
“Nope.” The secretary didn’t look up.
They stepped into the lift, Doug only hesitating a moment. He felt another thrill of fear up his spine as the door closed.
“What if the power goes out?”
“It won’t. It never has before, why would it do it now?”
Doug grabbed out a notepad and made a quick note.
“I thought you were left without power, that it was a bit of a warzone.”
“It was at first. Though the power never went out. We have clean running water too. No idea where it’s coming from, but as long as it works.”
The elevator brought them to the top floor, there they stepped out and Max walked directly to what Doug assumed was the largest office. A desk made of dark, heavy wood sat in the centre, behind the desk there were floor to ceiling windows, giving a view of the entire city. A large TV was bolted to the wall on one side, there were two comfortable couches angled artfully and two more soft looking chairs at the desk. Max walked directly to the window, Doug followed.
Smiling, Max turned to him, “Welcome to New Town.”
Doug awkwardly sat on one of the sofas. “How have things been here? Since the wall went up?”
“Well, it was difficult in the beginning. People panicked ya know? Like that’s any big surprise. Then people started manifesting different things and not all of the people were nice. Some tried to take over, others tried to stop them. It was a mess for the first few months. Everyone was scared. Then the resets started happening and everyone calmed down a bit.”
“Yeah. It’s not really confirmed but there are a lot of reports, particularly from some of our more powerful people. If someone fucks up and a large segment of the population dies, there’s a kind of reset. Who ever did it knows about it, as do a few others.”
“So, murder is impossible here?”
“Not quite. Individuals can die. Plenty have and plenty more will. Some were natural, others not. But if the change is catastrophic enough to upset the balance in here, then poof. It’s reset.”
“Well, we don’t really know. Personally, I think what ever created the wall is trying to protect us, while we get used to how everything works now.”
“Who first discovered it?”
“Maggie. I’ll take you to talk to her at some point. She’s a little strange now, but she’s usually nice enough. Just don’t piss her off. She’s one of the more powerful people here. You’ll see when you meet her.”
“Ok, well, what about you?”
“What about me?”
“Well, um, what are you?”
“Well, I’m up there in terms of power, but I don’t really use it. I’m not sure what I am to be quite honest. I was elected though, if that’s what you’re insinuating. I started organising people, getting them to help each other out, once things settled down, I stepped down from any kind of power, there were elections held, I won, as did the other members of the city council. We don’t control with fear, we try to contain the wilder elements in this place. It doesn’t always work, but we do our best.”
There was a knock at the door, though it was closer to a heavy pounding than to a knock. Max stood and went to the door, Doug wanted to call out to him, tell him to stop, he was suddenly and inexplicably terrified, but it was too late. Max opened the door and Doug let out a tiny little shriek. Max simply smiled, the man on the other side, frowned slightly, then he stumbled in. He was impossibly pale with a slight, greenish tinge to him. His clothes were ripped and torn but clean. One eye was a milky white, the other was a deep green. A large wound on his cheek had been stitched together with thick, black thread, and he was missing the tip of his nose. Doug could see the black tinge. His mind screamed for him to run, kill it, do something, but he was stuck.
“new guy.” The new man nodded. Max gestured at Doug, “Doug, this is Benny, Benny, Doug.”
Benny shuffled forward a few steps, then stopped, seemingly thinking better of it.
“Give it a few minutes, you’ll calm down. He’s no threat. It’s how people react to zombies. We think it’s some kind of survival instinct. They’re harmless though. Aren’t you? Aren’t you harmless? Look at the wittle guy” Max reached out a hand, intending to scratch behind Benny’s ear, Benny swatted the hand away,
“Try it and I’ll break your arm.” The words were thick and slightly slurred, but perfectly understandable. Doug felt his jaw drop open.
“Yes. I’m dead. No, I’m still alive. No, I don’t know how.” With that Benny dropped the papers onto the desk and shuffled out of the room, slamming the door behind him.
“He can be a little touchy about it. Take a deep breath, you’ll be fine.” Max frowned. “Maybe we’ll get lunch sent up. I think Rosies would be a bit much for you.”
“But, He, I.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know. Just wait. You’ll be fine.”
Feeling like he’d never be warm again, Doug closed his eyes, wondering what had possessed him to come into this place.