Hard, cold rain strikes my face and rolls down my cheeks, the thunder crackles and fills my body with dread.
“Not great weather we’re having at the moment is it?”
I nod and shrug and agree and keep my head down. Don’t say anything. What’s the point? Small talk is for other people.
I really need to get out of this rain. It’s chaotic. Its so heavy I can barely see in front of me. I know how to get back, I just can’t seem to find my way. It’s too heavy.
“Jeez, what’s wrong with you now?”
“It’s only rain”
“Everyone else is trying to get home too, you’re not the only one. Why can’t you just deal with it?Do you think you’re special?”
My clothes are soaked, my body aches. I’ve been trying to get out of this rain for hours. It feels like days, months, years. Its rained like this before, I know it has, but it’s still heavy, it’s still frightening.
“Lighten up, yes, it’s raining but everyone else is getting on with it”
I’m pushed to the ground, trampled on, kicked and laughed at by angry, snarling faces. Chaos surrounds me. I’m trying to get to my feet amongst a crowd of wet bodies.
My body aches. I consider, for a moment, lying here. Just lie there on the cold, wet, hard surface and let it happen. Let them kick me. Let them trample. Maybe if I pass out it’ll pass me by.
There’s something inside of me knows that’s not right. My legs throb, they’re cold and wet, hot and fatigued. My clothes are stuck to me like a second skin. But I push up as my thighs scream out at me. One last push. I’m up. I push my face out of the crowd into the air and take a deep breath.
I emerge to a very different place. No longer am I surrounded by angry, snarling commuters. Its very different.
It’s warm! The sun! It’s here! It’s beautiful! Almost too beautiful! I stumble a little, I’m completely overwhelmed. Slowly, I begin to forget that rain even exists. My clothes are dry. My body feels refreshed. I smile and chat to everyone I meet. Small talk is for me after all. I chat. I smile. I’m alive!! It feels amazing! Almost too good! I feel giddy with glee!
“Remember that rain?” she asks. “you got soaked didn’t you?”
I smile and chuckle and recoil. I look to the sky and feel the sun’s warm beam fade from my face. NO! One wet drip plops on my cheek. I laugh uncertainly. I wipe it away with my hand and smile. Forget it. Its just one drip.
But it’s not just one drip. The rain, its back. I can’t see again. The thunder strikes. Help. Chaos resumes in a flash, I’m saturated. How did it change so quickly? The once happy smiling people before me are gone. They bang into eachother, faces mangled in annoyance. They hate the rain. No, they hate me. Do they think its my fault?
“I DON’T CONTROL THE RAIN!!” I scream at them.
They turn to look at me. Haunting, twisted, snarling, monstrous faces laughing, pointing, taunting me.
I turn to run away. I run and run and run but can’t escape. I’m still in the same place. They’re still there, staring at me, taunting me.
“HOW DO I GET BACK TO THE SUN?!” I shout at them.
I’m met with a snarling crowd of laughs in reply. But then.
“you’ll get there…” says a friendly voice. It’s unlike any of the others. No snarling. No growling. No taunting like the others who surround me. It’s kind, it’s laced in hope. It’s feels warm. Like the sun.
“….why don’t you try this first?” it says.
I look up at the object thrust towards me. Confused, I take the black umbrella and open it. The crowd of monsters recoil all at once.
I laugh in annoyance at myself. Of course!! An umbrella!! I knew that!!
“But I really want to get home out of this rain. I want to get back to the sun.”
“Now come on everyone, repeat after me: We Are Someone’s Paradise.”
“WE ARE SOMEONE’S PARADISE” droned the reply from the crowd.
Wolliver Sting stood smiling before his small group of dedicated followers. Each and every one of them stood to attention, hanging on his every word. He prickled with delight as they repeated his mantra over and over: “WE ARE SOMEONE’S PARADISE.”
“We were born wasps…” he preached, marching up and down like an army sergeant in front of his dedicated followers”….we didn’t choose to be wasps, no more than an elephant chooses to have a trunk or a dog chooses to be a wild eyed idiot. That doesn’t mean we have to be the enemy does it?”
“NOOOOOO” returned the group in unison.
“We don’t need to use violence as a means to get attention do we?”
“NOOOOOO” they replied again.
“What do wasps who use violence get?” he asked
“SWATTED” they shouted back at him.
He chuckled and clapped his antennae together. “Very good!” he said, clearly proud of his recruits.
He pointed to a large jovial looking German Wasp with a protruding honeydew belly “Bernard! How long have you gone without stinging now?”
Bernard looked around with a proud smile across his face. “I’m coming up for my 12 week anniversary” he beamed. “WOOOOOW” replied the group in awe. “You must teach us your ways, zen master” said a young European Hornet named Garth. Bernard chuckled and pointed back at Wolliver. “Wolly here is the real zen master, I just followed his ways. Stick with us little guy, you’ll soon no longer feel the need to plunge your zinger deep into the succulent flesh of the enemy. To hit them once, twice, maybe even thrice. To watch them recoil and slowly realise that they’ve been paralysed by your hand.”
Bernard’s eyes had began to glaze over and his stinger had began to jerk and twitch uncontrollably as he recounted for the group the very intimate details of the encounter he had had with a small house spider 12 weeks ago. As he was reaching a particularly graphic section of his story he suddenly slumped to the ground and began to convulse. Wolliver stood over Bernard’s unconscious body clutching a small taser. “I’m sorry you all had to see that folks” he said with an uneasy smile. “Sometimes it’s best to get in front of our urges, Bernard will be fine, he just needs to sleep off his lust.”
“What do we say when we get the sting lust gang?” he raised his antennae out to the group for the answer – they responded expertly “THE KEY TO PEACE IS SELF-REFLECTION, USE OUR STING FOR SELF-PROTECTION”
“Wonderful” clapped Wolliver in delight.
The tree shook beneath their small antennae and from the small hole in the tree emerged a beautiful, elegant large Asian hornet, flanked by 4 smaller muscle bound hornets, each of them staring and laughing at the group. Wolliver dropped to a knee as the Asian hornet approached him. “Still trying to recruit these freaks to your peace army huh Wolliver?” she smirked. The group all dropped to a knee in her presence. “Good day your majesty” replied Wolliver, his eyes still facing the floor. “Good day your majesty” repeated the group after him. The 4 smaller hornets flanking the Queen sniggered and giggled at this. “What happened to this one?” snarled one of them gesturing his stinger towards a still unconscious Bernard “you all decide to have one last hit together and take out the big one? look at that belly!” The four minions all sniggered and giggled together at this.
“HUSH!” interjected the Queen. The laughing ceased immediately, the Queen’s minions all paused and looked to the floor, scorned. She looked down at Wolliver “I only came to invite you to the unveiling of the new nest tonight, thought you and your peace corps could do with integrating with the rest of us savages. Don’t worry, we won’t try to indoctrinate you, it’s just an evening of celebration.”
“Thank you, your majesty, for the gracious invite” replied Wolliver, still kneeling “we’ll definitely consider it”
“We’ll definitely consider it” mocked one of the Queen’s minions in a childish voice. At this the Queen spun in a flash and zapped the minion with her large stinger. The minion hit the ground with a thud, his lifeless body jerking uncontrollably. The group watching on recoiled in horror, some hiding their eyes, others screaming at this assault. All that is, except little Garth. “Coooooooool” he said, stepping a little closer to get a look at the minion lay jerking in the middle of the room.
“Idiot” muttered the Queen. She kicked the body hard, it flew straight out the small hole in the tree and disappeared from view. Garth looked as if he might pass out with excitement. “You and I should talk privately, Wolliver Stings” the Queen said cryptically as she exited the tree with her three minions in tow. “See you tonight” She turned, winked at a stunned Wolliver then flew off.
“Uhhhhh” groaned Bernard from the floor. He climbed to his antennae and looked at the scared faces around the room. “Sting lust again?” he asked Wolliver. “Yup” he replied. The big Wasp began to sob as Wolliver took him in an embrace. “It’s OK Bernie” said Wolliver, “a nest is not built in day, just as inner self reflection is not realised in 12 weeks. We can do this together.” Bernard’s shoulders began to bounce up and down as he broke down into a wild howling cry. “There, there” said Wolliver as he smiled out to the rest of the group.
“Can we go to the party tonight master?” shrieked a clearly still excited Garth, his pre-pubescent voice splitting the tension in the tree. “Well, Garth” replied Wolliver as he helped a still sobbing Bernard into a seat. “I believe you’ve all worked so hard that we do deserve to let our wings down for one night. All I ask is you remain true to yourself and true to my teachings. There should only be wasps there so there shouldn’t be any temptation. We can reconvene tomorrow.” The group rejoiced in celebration and conga lined their way out the tree off to prepare themselves for an evening of celebration. Wolliver chuckled as he watched them go.
He lay down on his bed and let out a long sigh. What did Queen Gojin want with him? what could she possibly want to discuss? There was only one way to find out, he supposed.
“What do you fink you could all do in 40 seconds Bruce?” asked Larry inquisitively.
“40 seconds?” crooned Bruce with a confused look on his face. “I dunno, mate, make a cup of coffee maybe? Oh no, I’ve got it, give Jennifer Aniston the greatest night of her life” he chuckled. “You’re ‘orrible mate” laughed Larry in response.
“Nah but seriously mate” said Larry “what do you reckon you could do in that short space of time?? End a life?”
“Steady on mate!” replied Bruce, taken aback.
“Take a look at this” said Larry. He pulled a large magic eight ball out of his backpack and whooshed it under Bruce’s nose dramatically. “What on earf is this?” exclaimed Bruce “what are you some sort of magician or somefink, fancy yourself as the next David Blaine do ya?” “Just ‘ave a look mate” Larry said.
Larry raised the magic 8 ball above his head and shook it like he was trying to revive it. Smoke appeared on the screen pooling in a circle, then as it began to clear a bedroom setting filled the face of the magic 8 ball. As the smoke finally cleared it became apparent that this was Bruce’s bedroom. His girlfriend lay on the bed, her head in her hands as Bruce was sat up in bed, deep in concentration on his Iphone.
“What the ‘ell? That’s me mate!” he exclaimed pointing at the 8 ball screen. “And there’s Tiff!”
Larry nodded and gestured for him to continue watching.
“Babe” asked Tiff as she lay in bed running her hands over her face and through her hair in anguish “have you got a sec? I need to ask you somefink.” “Jesus Tiff, gimme a minute yeah? I need to tell Jason where footy is tonight or he’ll not turn up again.” he replied, not taking his eyes off the screen. “It’s just…” she began. “A MINUTE TIFF YEAH?” he shouted back at her, turning to show his frustration. She pulled the duvet over her head and the smoke pooled back up over the scene.
Bruce looked up at Larry. “What’s going on ‘ere mate? You got camera’s in my house you dirty pervert?”
“Did you know Tiff is struggling in that new job of hers mate?” asked Larry. “You heard from her today since you had that little exchange?”
“Um….I dunno actually” mused Bruce looking down at his phone.
“Keep watching” said Larry and he gestured to the 8 ball.
Next up on the screen the smoke cleared to show Bruce sat at his breakfast table munching down on some cereal whilst flicking through his phone. He pressed the new tweet icon with his thumb and composed the following:
@AceRush that new album of yours is pathetic mate, you should do us all a favour and quit life #disappointing #wasteofbreath
He read it out loud to himself, chuckled and pressed send. “Take that you talentless gimp” he said out loud to the empty kitchen.
“So?” Bruce said to Larry sheepishly.
“Oxycotin, whisky, tequila, marijuana and cocaine” said Larry, counting them out on his fingers.
“What’s that then? the recipe to a good night out” laughed Bruce.
“No, that’s what Ace Rush all had in his system when they found him.”
Bruce frowned, confused. “Found him?” he whispered to himself.
“What’s next then?” he asked, his face now bright red, beads of sweat starting to form on his forehead. “Oh there’s lots more” said Larry “but I think I’ll just show you this last one. See if you can remember this little exchange at your work mate.”
They both looked down at the 8 ball as the smoke cleared once more. This time it revealed a workplace setting, 30 or so office workers sat in a conference room, their focus on a small stage with a projector on the wall.
“Everyone, I’d like to introduce you to Susan Carrington. She’s just joined us and will be supporting me and managing my calendar. Susan would you mind saying a little about yourself?”
A young woman stepped forward onto the stage and began to introduce herself, her breath giving way every few moments. She nervously tugged at her fingers as she spoke.
Grunts and guffaws of laughter started to fill the air as the woman nervously tried to tell the room about her interests. Right in the middle of where the hilarity had began was Bruce, whispering to those around him, nudging elbows and kicking backs of chairs.
Larry looked up at him as he watched the scene play out. “What was so funny mate?” Larry asked. “Nuffink” replied Bruce shaking his head. Larry pressed the matter, looking him dead in the eye. “What was it mate?” “Alright, alright” said Bruce, hands up protesting innocence. “All I said to Tony next to me was ‘check out sweaty Susan’. Look!” He shouted, pointing at the screen “her pits are all stained!!” he was smirking at Larry, hoping he’d also find some humour in the joke.
“Well, mate, I’m going to tell you all about about sweaty Susan. Susan Carrington is 24 and this is her first real job. She went to Uni after leaving school but she had to drop out a year in cos of anxiety, mate. She literally didn’t leave the house for her first year after leaving Uni. After 3 years intense CBT, therapy and lots of medication changes which really do a number on ya, she was finally ready to try applying for a job. When did this little comedy act of yours happen Bruce?”
“Um….I can’t really remember…” Bruce began.
“It was four days ago mate” snapped Larry. “You seen sweaty Susan since then?”
“I dunno mate, you know what? I don’t fink I have.” said Bruce, looking up to try to rack his brains about when he might have last seen this new girl in the office.
“You ain’t” said Larry in reply.
Larry shook the magic 8 ball again. The smoke pooled, clearing to reveal a parked ambulance and two stationary police cars sat outside a house. Tiff’s mother came running out the house screaming as if she had been tortured. She collapsed in the arms of a paramedic who struggled to keep her upright. “What the…thats Pauline!” shouted Bruce. Larry began to shake the 8 ball again. “Hold on!!” protested Bruce.
The next scene showed groups of solemn looking teenagers stood in front of large black iron gates, behind which a long gravel path led up to a grand mansion. TV cameras and reporters jostled for position in front of the gates. Just in the distance you could make out two Ambulances parked at the front door on the mansion.
“Here, ain’t that Ace Rush’s gaff?” asked Bruce, recognising it from a music video.
Larry shook his head with dismay then finally shook the 8 ball one last time.
The screen revealed a train track during midday, in the distance a train approached. The screen panned upwards to show a young woman stood looking down at the track from the overpass above. Bruce strained his eyes to see who it was but couldn’t recognise her. The woman muttered to herself, wiping tears away from her face. The audio volume increased to reveal the words ‘sweaty fucking Susan’ being repeated over and over. The woman let go of the overpass and fell to the track below.
Today is World Mental Health Day, a day to improve the mental health of people around the world. The theme selected for this year’s Day is suicide prevention. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15-29 year-olds with someone taking their own life every 40 seconds around the world.
We never know what someone else is going through during our day to day interactions and we never truly know the impact our actions might have on others. One little smile, Hi or asking someone how they’re doing might be the highlight of their week.
“Wake up!” screamed Andrew directly into his ear. “Wh, wh, what time is it?” he muttered.
He rolled over and pawed at his phone sitting on his bedside table. The bright screen illuminated the room. He squinted his eyes to look at it. 2:37am. He let out a noise situated somewhere between frustration and anger. Rolling over, he flipped his pillow to lie on the cooler side and closed his eyes.
“Remember you need to be awake at 6” nagged Neil as he lay trying to get back to sleep. “He’s probably not even set an alarm” chimed in Alex.
He rolled back over, making the same frustrated noise and illuminated the room once again. Squinting at the brightness of the light he double and triple checked to make sure his alarm was set. “He’s only going to get about 3 hours sleep now” complained Ian. “You’ll be shattered tomorrow!” warned Emma. He folded his extra pillow and pulled it over his head, he began trying to count sheep.
“Jeeeez, you look like death” said Trevor, greeting him as he shuffled through to the bathroom mirror. “Maybe you should just call in sick – that way you won’t embarrass yourself at the interview” suggested Yves.
“Ugh, come on” he said to himself as he flicked on the shower. His eyes were diverted back to the mirror as he scanned his face. “Uh oh, never noticed that mole before” said Andrew “wonder what it could be”. Neil sucked in a long breath of air through his lips “oooh that looks cancerous” he replied. “Oh definitely” agreed Alex. He ran his finger over it again and again. No lump, he thought. “Doesn’t mean it’s not cancer” said Ian. “I’d be googling that if it was me” said Emma.
He picked up his phone with the intention of looking up photos of cancerous moles before he was interrupted by Trevor. “You’re gong to be late for this interview!” he shouted. “And if don’t eat before it, you’ll feel like crap” agreed Yves.
He put down his phone and jumped in the shower. He listened them argue about what he should say in the interview, how he should greet the interviewer, the time he’d need to leave, where he would park, the merits of drinking coffee before it and then if he was even good enough for the job. Andrew questioned if it was even worth going. He shook his head. The incessant arguing never stopped.
After grabbing a banana and a cup of tea to take with him in the car – Andrew had convinced him he would now be late if he didn’t leave right at that minute – he hopped in and turned on the engine. “Do you think that’s enough petrol?” asked Neil. “Oooh” answered Alex “that’s going to be tight”.
He plugged in his phone and selected a laid back playlist of film soundtracks he liked. It settled him. The group sat quietly in the back of the car as he drove contently to the office where the interview was due to take place. After trying to squeeze the car into two different spaces which Ian had convinced him he wouldn’t fit in, he gave up and parked much further away from the building. “You’re going to have to run now” snapped Emma “you’re going to be late!”
Arriving at the reception area looking sweaty and dishevelled he gave his name to the woman at the front desk. She advised him he still had 30 minutes until his interview slot so she invited him to have a seat or, pointedly, suggested he use the facilities to freshen up. He decided to take a walk to the canteen to purchase a bottle of water.
“£1.50 please mate” said the man operating the till. He reached into his pocket for his wallet. “Oh crap, you’ve forgotten it haven’t you?” shouted Yves. “Probably left it in the car” said Andrew. He felt through his pockets and rifled through his bag whilst apologising. He eventually found it in the front pouch of his bag. The group stood crowded around him tutting and shaking their head.
“You know you’re going to be bursting for the toilet if you drink all that” warned Neil. He ignored him and had a small drink. Alex and Ian were still arguing about the types of things he should talk about in the interview whilst Emma snorted and questioned if he even had the skills to get the job.
“OK, we’re ready for you now” interrupted a softly spoken voice. He looked up to see the interviewer with whom he’d met a few weeks previous. They had met for an informal chat to discuss the job he was interviewing for today. Seeing a familiar face helped him relax and the group followed behind him in silence as he engaged in small talk as they all entered the room and sat down.
After some brief formalities about the interview format, the interviewer asked the first question. The group jumped out their seats and all began shouting at once. “You don’t know the answer to that!” they all screamed. He leaned forward, took a small drink and began answering. Dejected, the group got up quietly and left the room.
After an hour the door creaked open and he emerged, smiling. He shook the interviewers hand and made his way out the building. He felt elated. It had went as well as he could have hoped for. He fired off a text to his girlfriend with the smiling face and praying hands emoji’s and made his way back towards the car. He only saw the group a couple times on the way back. Once, they wandered past arguing about the things he should have said during the interview. As he scanned the car park trying to remember where he’d left the car, he heard them again, discussing the possibility of it having been stolen or even towed away. Thankfully he spotted it and made his way over, jumping in the drivers seat.
The drive home was a blast. He sang along to music on the radio, drumming on the steering wheel as he went. There were no sign of the group, he assumed they had decided to make their own way home.
After what had been a stressful day, he decided that when he got home, he would go out a run to relieve some of the built up tension in his body. “You’ll be shattered again” warned Yves. Ah, there they were, he thought. He had expected them back but maybe not as soon as they had returned. “Remember, if you go too far you’ll probably end up hurting your back again” said Andrew. I’ll take it easy, he thought.
The group followed him downstairs and argued amongst themselves as he laced up his trainers. They seemed to debate everything simultaneously: When would he make dinner? When would he hear about the job? How far should he run? Would the house be on fire when he got back? What if he dropped his keys down a drain when out running? Then they were back onto the mole on his face again then onto the nuclear threat from North Korea.
He sighed and shook his head, opening the front door with the group huddled behind him. He began jogging gently at first as the group kept pace just behind him still rabbiting on at each other. As he began to get comfortable he upped the pace. Very soon after, he was gliding along the pavement breathing rhythmically with his stride. He gave a brief glimpse back and realised he’d outran the group, they must have given up, he thought. He smiled and pushed on.
That evening he showered in peace, ordered himself a takeaway pizza and watched his favourite movie. He felt great.
Then, at 1am the following morning:
“WAKE UP!!” screamed Andrew
“You heard about that job?” asked Neil
“Ha, doubt it” scoffed aleX
“Oooh that moles looking bigger” said Ian
“Yep, I’d google that now” agreed Emma
“Probably nothing guys” Trevor suggested
“Nah, looks like cancer to me” said Yves
Exhaling, he rolled over and illuminated the room with his phone. He tapped open the google search bar and listened intently as the group reacted to the images on the screen.
The idea for this story, if that’s what you want to call it, came from an unexpectedly tough counselling session I attended today. I’m hoping getting this down in black and white helps me to wade through some of the mud in my mind.
an area of darkness;
to shadow (noun) is to follow a person during their day to day life.
My shadow begged me not to publish this.
My shadow thrives in the darkness. However it often appears when the sun is shining at it’s brightest. When I’m happy, my shadow is there to remind me not to enjoy it because the sun will be setting very soon.
Ironically, my shadow would prefer it if I lived in the darkness eternally. Would this mean it would disappear? No, I don’t think so. In the darkness is where it thrives.
In the darkness my shadow whispers to me that I’ll die one day. They often tell me it’ll probably be soon.
In the darkness my shadow tells me all about terminal illnesses. They talk to me in hushed tones about the symptoms. They can spot them in me expertly.
In the darkness, my shadow wakes me to remind me that I’m a terrible person.
In the darkness my shadow is a perfect judge of character. It reminds me that people are probably just being nice, it’s unlikely that they genuinely care for me.
In the darkness my shadow can fill any silence.
In the darkness my shadow gives me useful advice. It tells me that it’d be better if I had nothing to care about, that way I’d have nothing to lose. They tell me that I don’t deserve to be happy. I don’t deserve to have people who care about me.
In the darkness my shadow makes me feel so much. Self doubt, self hatred, exhaustion and muscle aches. My shadow has visited me a few times to remind me that suicide is an option.
In the darkness, my shadow sets my brain on fire.
I want to live in the sun, I often do. I have amazing family and friends. I know what to do and where to go to live in permanent sunshine but often my shadow will reappear to darken the light. It’s OK, I can handle a little darkness. It’s in the darkness that my shadow bleeds into the shadows of my family and friends. I don’t want to let it anymore.
It’s 2024. At the beginning of January, the state of Ohio in the United States of America had 56 current death row inmates on it’s books. By the end of March, 54 of them had been executed. 2 remained and plans were in place to schedule the next two injections in the following weeks.
Amongst these dry, white-painted walls of the highly guarded secure ground floor of the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville, something inhumane, corrupt and absolutely incredible was quietly happening. Something which would preserve the lives of the majority of the worlds population without them ever having any hint of an idea.
“54 of the bastards and nothing to show for it! Why would I come down there for that?!” spat Angela Kellerman. She slammed the phone down in a rage. She slumped back into her personalised ergo-tech chair, her body moulded into it after many a-night spent consuming awful coffee, eating vending machine sandwiches and working early into the morning. She counted to ten. Kellerman was tense, the counting took her blood pressure down from critical to barely healthy and she had a fleeting thought to meditate but knew she didn’t have the time. One day.
Kellerman was chief commanding officer of the US Government’s Department of Future Events. The DFE was a clandestine branch of the US Government whose objective was to investigate and prevent large catastrophic events or crimes from taking place. Kellerman’s performance was judged, by the President of the United States, on her ability to prevent large scale events from taking place before they happened. It seemed an impossible objective to ever meet.
The Department was established after the Long Valley Eruption (LVE) in 2021, where millions of American lives were tragically lost and many millions more were changed forever. LVE had been predicted for years by scientists, thousands had marched outside the gates of White House. No-one listened. When all was said and done the state of California was no more. A President was impeached and life as an American was brought to a standstill for years. It was only in the last year or so that life had begun to move on. For Kellerman, LVE had turned itself from an international tragedy into a job opportunity. Even more than that it provided an opportunity for this 36 year old Government agent to put into action a lifetime of work and theory.
Kellerman had thousands of staff working at the DFE. Thousands of staff working day to day to prevent crimes from taking place all across the 51 states. By this point most terror related groups were cyber based, so Kellerman had the greatest minds in America and beyond working for the DFE to prevent hackers, cybercriminals and black hat organisations from breaking down firewalls of the biggest organisations in the nation. However, it was one covert taskforce, based in Ohio which was causing the hypertension for Kellerman.
As a teen Kellerman had always loved the idea of time travel. When she was 13 her Mom had pulled out her old box of DVD’s (Digital Versatile Disc – a digital storage format used to watch movies and television shows in the 2000’s) from the garage and showed Angela her favourite movie. Young Angela was entranced, it only got better when her Mom told her there were two more! From there she read and watched everything time travel related she could get her hands on. Stephen Kings 11/22/63 was her personal favourite – she still tried to read it every year as a reminder to herself of her childhood. Movies like Avengers Endgame, X-Men Days of Future Past, The Butterfly Effect, and Minority Report fed her insatiable appetite to consume everything she could about fictional time travel.
Fiction turned to fact when she became a research affiliate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) studying physical sciences and science in the modern world. From there, as is experienced by most young adults attempting to live their dream, the realities of life called and Angela found herself working for the US Government in a multitude of consultancy roles concerning sciences and the law. Fate had her brought her to where she was now, in her office in Washington in her ergo-tech chair cursing at the telephone and unsuccessfully attempting to practice mindfulness techniques.
She took a deep breath and picked up the phone again, punching in the number 5 “Jane, I’m going to Ohio. No, now. Can you make the arrangements? Thanks.” she closed her eyes, took another deep breath and got up from her chair to make her way towards her office door.
The private jet touched down at Akron-Canton Regional Airport 3 hours later into the sticky, wet night and a blacked out SUV took Kellerman directly to a discrete Government-owned luxury cabin, just outside Lucasville. A meeting was scheduled the following morning between Kellerman and her task force.
The feeling in the room was tense. Kellerman sat, with her folders opened in front of her, staring at the two men across from her. “We have two left gentlemen, two.” she said, leaving the obvious question unasked. The more intelligent of the two, Watson, said nothing but smiled. The other one, Pendergast who was the more industrious man cleared his breath and began. “Angela, number 54 came back yesterday.”
“The fuck?” she muttered under her breath. Composing herself, she sat up. “What do you mean came back? he came back to life? the procedure didn’t take?” She was getting animated now “Pendergast, what in the fuck do you mean he came back?”
Watsons smile got bigger “he came back Angela!” he said with a giant grin, “HE. CAME. BACK.”.
They marched out the meeting room and through a number of secure doors accessed only by a small number of authorised staff. After what seemed like a trek to Mordor and back of walking, they came to their destination. Angela walked into a long quiet corridor of single cells. Only three were occupied but there were enough cells within this facility here for over 100 death row inmates. It was deathly quiet. The cells had no windows and were securely sealed the outside by three state of the art mechanical and digital locks. “This one” said Watson. He ushered Kellerman forward and pushed a button next to the cell door. On pushing the button the contents of the cell became visible as the door became transparent. In it stood a very animated man, pressed directly up against the other side of the door shouting and screaming like his life depended on it. He was 6 foot 2, shaven headed with tattoo sleeves. He also had what Angela strangely thought was a kind, genuine face. “What’s he saying?” she asked Watson. He punched another button on the wall and the sound became audible.
“COME ON!! LET ME TALK TO SOMEONE!!! YOU GOTTA LET ME TALK TO SOMEONE” “IS ANYONE THERE?” “I GOTTA KNOW WHAT’S GOING ON!!” “THE WORLD IS GOING TO SHIT AND I’M STUCK HERE IN THIS DAMN ROOM!!” “LET ME FIGHT, I CAN HELP!! The man went on like this until Watson punched both buttons again and turned back to Kellerman. “You won’t believe what he said he saw”.
Angela Kellerman sat up straight at the table with her heart racing and her body almost visibly trembling, staring directly into the eyes of a convicted multiple murderer. Watson sat to her right with his D-pad in front of him ready to assess the murderer’s vitals as he spoke. Pendergast sat to her left. “Begin recording” he said aloud and then nodded at Kellerman. “DRI 5154, firstly, please let me advise you that anything you say here is completely confidential and secure, we are recording this conversation for our own research and historical records.” “Secondly, whatever happened to you” she paused and looked up at the sky then back at the inmate “let me tell you that I 100% believe you.” “You were sentenced to death for two heinous murders of two innocent people but you have now been punished for those crimes.” Her tone now slipped from familiar to firm. “However be aware, DRI 5154, that you remain the property of the US Government until such time as we deem it appropriate for you to no longer remain so, do you understand?”
DRI 5154 smirked and nodded back at her, not giving away any emotion. He had been this way since they had digitally sedated him in his cell and transported him to this cold, nondescript interview room. He was handcuffed around the legs and arms and was held in his seat by the threat of the collar around his neck. One false move or comment and the sedation would be injected again. “So what you’re saying is, I do what you tell me or I’m toast, this time for real.”
Kellerman nodded “I’m glad we understand each other. OK, here’s what’s going to happen, I’m going to tell you what happened to you from our side of things, you are then going to tell me what happened to you from your perspective. All I need you to do is be honest. You might not understand what it is that’s happened to you, that’s OK. I just need you to be honest and tell me everything. If you do that, we’ll all be happy campers.”
Kellerman went on to outline that when DRI 5154 had been sat down behind that screen and received the injection from Watson in front of the family of the two brothers he’d executed in cold blood, he’d actually just been given a mild sedation to knock him out. Whilst subdued Watson and Pendergast had wheeled him out of view and transported him to a highly secure room that only they had access to. For the 54th time that year, they had each started up their computers, wirelessly connected their computers directly to the chip implanted under the inmates skin and simultaneously run their self-developed programmes. Nothing had happened. This wasn’t unusual to Pendergast and Watson, that is exactly what had happened the previous 53 times. However, each time previously the inmates vitals had dropped to zero and their heart had given out. DRI 5154’s vitals were steady, he was, unbelievably, visibly still breathing. Then, in a matter of seconds during which a stunned Pendergast and Watson had failed to take a breath, DRI 5146 had opened his eyes.
The inmate had sat quietly and listened to Kellerman’s story, once again he had refrained from showing any emotion. That was right up until that final detail. “Did you say seconds?” he asked looking confused. “14.2 to be exact” Watson answered. “from initiation of the DRIPS programme until you opened your eyes, 14.2 seconds”. “OK….” he said, attempting to understand “…..drips?” asked the inmate, clearly confused. “Death Row Inmate Preventative Software” answered Pendergast.
“OK” answered the inmate. “Here’s my version of events”.
DRI 5154 was Tyler Reynolds. Reynolds was a former marine who had served his final year proudly and quietly before being honourably discharged. On the night he had committed the crimes which had resulted in him ending up on death row he had been in a restaurant with his wife, friends and wider family, celebrating his new civilian status. Reynolds had looked at the wrong guy the wrong way at the bar, making eye contact that bit too long and that’s where things had went south. Two brothers, both drunk and full of their own hubris had taken it upon themselves to wait for Reynolds and take him down a peg or two. Unfortunately for them, they didn’t have the wherewithal to read the situation correctly. This happy, smiling 6’2 man was actually a trained killing machine and if provoked had the tools to end their lives. Unfortunately that was precisely what happened when both brothers set upon him with knives as the Reynolds family and friends left the restaurant. The former marine was left covered in blood, but not his own.
The subsequent trial was hell and Reynolds was ultimately sentenced to death. Those who knew him knew he was innocent but in the age of social media and microwaveable 24 hour news cycles it’s not the truth that sentences a man anymore, it’s the stories that are put out there in the minds of the people scrolling through their screens whilst walking out into traffic or driving on the highway to work everyday. There was no doubt the jury were going to find him guilty, the left-wing media had a field day with Reynolds’ past, dragging him and his family through the mud over his involvement in various wars and secret government operations. Reynolds was a square peg in the round hole of the world where everyone was seemingly desperate to be outraged at the drop of a hat, let alone a military operation.
On the day of his execution Reynolds remembered being wheeled out in front of the family. He remembered he felt proud as he sat there. Not proud for what he had done to those two young men, but proud of his life. He had a wonderful wife who he loved dearly and before the incident they had a great life together. He’d proudly served his country doing what he felt had to be done to ensure his country remained free, that meant alot to him. He remembered looking at Pendergast and Watson and remember thinking how emotionless they looked to be wheeling a man away to his death. Just another day at the office for them he had remembered thinking and had bizarrely chuckled to himself about it.
However, the next thing he remembered was absolute pandemonium.
He had found himself standing at a darkly lit bar with barely any space to move, surrounded by bodies. It wasn’t the usual thrum of a Friday evening after-work drinks that had created the crowd though. Every person in this bar was stood with their eyes glued to the large flat screen televisions dotted across the bar walls. No-one spoke. The only noise which could be heard was that of the newscaster.
“This will be a timestamp in history ladies and gentlemen. We have just heard confirmation directly from the White House secretary that President Woodbridge himself gave the order to assassinate the Russian President on US soil. President Yeghozin was confirmed deceased 4pm central time today by a single gunshot to the head. We expect to hear directly from President Woodbridge imminently”
Gasps went up in the bar, murmuring, shrieking, crying, screaming. Every type of reaction was heard throughout the bar, even the odd “woop” and “America!” could be heard.
Reynolds tried to collect his thoughts as best he could, a man in his mid-60’s turned to him, saluted with his piss-coloured light beer and toasted to those around him “well, here’s to what remains of this once great nation”. The bar hushed and the TV was turned to its highest volume again. A tall man in an exquisite suit walked slowly towards a wooden podium. He looked somber and serious. “My fellow Americans” he began “it is with great regret that I stand before our proud nation today. I take the defence of our wonderful nation and the millions of Americans who live in it incredibly seriously. It is with that in mind that at 0700 hours this morning I confirmed an order to Seal team 14 to execute operation Handstrong. The objective of Operation Handstrong was to identify and eliminate enemies who posed an imminent and mortal threat to the United States of America.”
“Any implications of executing Operation Handstrong were of course fully considered and the decision to eliminate the leader of a fellow UN country was not taken lightly. I believe that I owe you, the American public who voted me into this office, an explanation for why this has taken place. Unfortunately I can’t do that.” More cries and gasps went up in the bar. President Woodbridge reached under the podium as he spoke. He fixed the camera with a regretful smile “God bless America, May the lord have mercy on us all…” it was at that point that Reynolds heard a gunshot ring out in the bar. Panic stricken bodies crushed him up against the bar, people screaming and shouting. Reynolds set his feet as wide as he could to prevent himself falling over and braced himself against the bodies. It was pandemonium.
Eventually, the bar cleared and it had become evidently clear that the gunshot hadn’t went off in the bar, but instead on the TV.
President Woodbridge, whoever the fuck he was Reynolds thought, had just committed suicide on live TV , the Russian President had been assassinated on American soil and outside of the bar in the streets of the cities and towns of America, pandemonium would reign for the coming weeks and months to come.
Reynolds paused for the first time since he had began recalling this ordeal, he realised he was sweating profusely and had barely stopped to take a breath. Kellerman stared at him. She looked shellshocked. Not “I can’t believe you forgot to pick up the kid from school” shellshocked more “the sky is falling, aliens are here and Santa is real” shellshocked. “Can I have a minute?” asked a clearly exhausted looking Reynolds. “Of course” said Kellerman, she arranged for some food and drink to be prepared for him then ushered Pendergast and Watson into a separate room. “When was he?!” she demanded. Pendergast and Watson looked at each other then back at Kellerman. “Fuck me” she said.
4 hours had passed since Reynolds had described what he experienced after being “executed” by Pendergast and Watson. He had eaten, then almost immediately fallen asleep in his cell. He was awoken by Kellerman standing in his cell, flanked by Pendergast and Watson. “OK Mr Reynolds, Tyler. We need to have ourselves a serious conversation.” “Tyler?” he replied, “what happened to DRI 5154?” he asked. “Well, Tyler, it seems that you, me and my two colleagues here are in an elite group of 4 people who know that you weren’t executed and instead travelled to a future America and witnessed what sounds like the suicide of a future President following him confessing to the world that he ordered the assassination of the Russian President, on American soil. So. I think first name basis is entirely appropriate, don’t you? I’m Angela” she said as she extended her hand.
It took two days, many delivered pizzas and coffees, a lot of expletive-filled arguments, mainly between Reynolds and Kellerman, and not much sleep for the foursome to agree what they would do. Many options had been on the table including doing absolutely nothing. Ultimately they all agreed there was only one thing they could do: they were going to assassinate the future President of the United States of America in an effort to prevent an almost certain nuclear war with Russia.