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Echoe

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Jun 9th, 2015
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  1. After a week with the marching thrumm of the diesel engine as company, the stilled silence hurts more than the sudden stop. The Bitch is dead. The darkness is absolute. Not even starlight enters the cab. I can't even hear anyone breath. I can feel the switches beneath my fingers, but nothing works. The radio-set stays dark.
  2.  
  3. My breath catches in my throat.
  4.  
  5. “It's not the motor,” Max says. I can hear him trying to switch something too. “Battery's dead too.”
  6.  
  7. Someone pulls at a door-handle.
  8.  
  9. “Don't!” Anika yells. Her voice rings off the cab walls.
  10.  
  11. “Stilling Fur,” says Armin.
  12.  
  13. “What's that?” I ask.
  14.  
  15. Nobody answers. Another one of those things I have to find out on my own. Outside, there is only black. Raw, ink-like, blackness. For a moment, I think we've been dropped out of the world, into a hole of nothing.
  16.  
  17. It could be just us in the cab. The Bitch's cab a bubble. All that's left of the universe.
  18.  
  19. I hear footsteps bang along the roof, heavy with a familiar lop-sided stride that brings a relieved smile
  20.  
  21. The upper hatch squawks as it's pulled open
  22.  
  23. “What happened?. Goose's voice. I can't see his face.
  24.  
  25. Cold air swirls inside, drawing in raw diesel fumes behind it.
  26.  
  27. “Stilling Fur!” Anika yells.
  28.  
  29. “What's that?” I ask again.
  30.  
  31. “Whatever touches it dies,” Max says.
  32.  
  33. Could say the same about anything else in this place. I don't say that out loud.
  34.  
  35. My fingers find my emergency torch and try it. The light is harsh and bright, filling the rig's cab. Anika flinches away.
  36.  
  37. “Good thinking,” Anika says, still blinking “Maybe the body protected everything inside.”
  38.  
  39. “Explains why we're still alive then,” says Armin. He finds his own light right before Max does. It shines off the glass of the windscreen, harsh and bright, making the night outside seem even darker. Our own reflections gaze back from outside.
  40.  
  41. Doesn't explain why it killed the battery and engine, but I don't say that. Better not to betray any more ignorance.
  42.  
  43. “Don't open the doors until we're sure.” Says Anika. “You don't want to step out into the stuff.”
  44.  
  45. “You ever get the feeling that maybe coming in here was a bad idea,” says Max. The smile on his face is smother by a glare from Anika.
  46.  
  47. But Nobody disagrees with him. I don't.
  48.  
  49. He holds up his hands. “Just saying. Not criticising.”
  50.  
  51. “We'll wait until sun-up” Anika decides. “Until then, conserve your batteries. And don't go overboard for shit nor money.”
  52.  
  53. Great, I think. A whole night
  54.  
  55. --
  56.  
  57. We try to sleep.
  58.  
  59. You're not human if you can sleep in this place.
  60.  
  61. The sun rises an hour late. Nobody dares comment on why, but I think Armin understands. He makes hurried notes on his maps while we eat.
  62.  
  63. --
  64.  
  65. A hundred yards from the Bitch and I could be the only person left in the universe. The city around is dead, all signs of life swallowed by the grey fur. The stillness hurts. Like standing in a rusting steel and concrete coffin. It's the tombstone of civilisation.
  66.  
  67. Building windows are hazy with dust. But only a few are broken -nothing like Steeltown. I stop outside what looks to be an old electrics store. Decades of dust and rain have dulled the red paint on the sign over the door.
  68.  
  69. “Radio Shack.” I read aloud, feeling a giddy thrill.
  70.  
  71. I could be rich. A new Table. Maybe a Beta. Perhaps even a TV. Armfuls of electrics, there for the taking. Mummified. Even boxed.
  72.  
  73. Nobody else gives them a second thought.
  74.  
  75. It's a hint that maybe I shouldn't. A trap. Bait for the careless. But potentially, somewhere where I might find good scrap. Something the mechanic can use. Something maybe I can build a power supply out of and move the rig. A flyback from a TV might be useful. Maybe they even have a generator.
  76.  
  77. No fur blocks the door.
  78.  
  79. I throw a rock. It clatters off the glass.
  80.  
  81. Seems good.
  82.  
  83. One hard jab with the axe shatters the glass. It crashes to the floor inside, the sound sharp and painful. My torch reaches inside. No sign of fur. No shimmers in the shadows. No swirls or patterns in the dust on the carpet. Light sparks off glass screens. Another tossed rock bounces of something hollow. A second to make certain, and a third for luck gives me the confidence to step inside. Broken glass grinds into carpet underfoot.
  84.  
  85. The air inside is dry, sucking the moisture out of my body. I don't notice the cobwebs hanging from the ceiling, until I realise they're the first signs of anything living in this city. It makes my stomach turn.
  86.  
  87. I shine my torch on them, and they shine up bright. I don't dare touch them. Instead, I shine my torch around the store as I walk down the isle.
  88.  
  89. Tables seem to have stopped mid-record. An old clock shows 9:43. I see an oversized Cassette still hanging from a dead Beta.
  90.  
  91. E.T. The Extra Terrestrial. The label is pristine. Preserved.
  92.  
  93. I'd heard of it. I feel my skin fizzle, my whole body crackling with energy. There is more in this one floor than in Market – more money than I have ever seen in my life in one place. I start to wonder how I could carry it all back, forgetting my mission. Maybe the others will help.
  94.  
  95. I turn to leave, ready to run back.
  96.  
  97. A foil wrapper crunches under my boot. Hershys. I pick it up.
  98.  
  99. It smells sweet, almost like milk or cream. Brand new. I've never even seen a chocolate bar before – but I recognise the smell immediately. Like something from my childhood. I stuff the wrapper in my pocket.
  100.  
  101. Another crumpled piece of paper sits in the doorway, carried by a breath of wind. Green leaves. How, I wonder, picking it up. Thick, bloody sauce and yellow mustard smear the inside.
  102.  
  103. McDonalds. Whopper.
  104.  
  105. Again, the scent is sweet - but a different kind. I can't place it. It dares me to try it. To touch it, to taste it. But I have more sense than that. I throw it away.
  106.  
  107. I turn around, and the city comes to life in a flash of light. A roar overhead draws my attention. Flying across the sky, glinting in the sun, a glider trailing streams of cloud. I stare, wide-mouthed. On the street, more cars than I've seen in my lifetime jostle for position. All of them, brand new and brightly painted. They're sleek. Smoothed. Like they've been left in the sun to melt. The headlights shine like cut crystal glass.
  108.  
  109. The soft humm of idling engines fills the air, the taste of exhaust on my lips. Familiar, but different. It's cleaner somehow, much more muffled. This much traffic should water my eyes.
  110.  
  111. The sidewalks bustle with colourful people. Most seem to stare at their hand devices. Scanners? Some talk into them. Others seem to just point them at themselves. None of them are dressed for the zone. They look like an old photograph. Have I stepped into a film?
  112.  
  113. They dress like a film, in a variety of colours and styles. Dressed for warm weather, rather than cold. Some wear heavy, black suits. Others, light shirts and denim. The women, some wear so little I can't help but stare. They part around me, ignoring me. They step in and out of the stores around me, hurrying about their business. I can hear the cash registers in the building behind me working – actually working. Dozens of voices around me go about their daily routines, talking about price, about their lover, about something called Terrorist. I stand on the sidewalk, watching, overwhelmed.
  114.  
  115. Is this an Echoe? It seems like more. More vivid and real than a hazy mirage. One of them bumps against me, nearly knocking me too my knees, proving it.
  116.  
  117. “Oh Gee Sorry,” she says to me. “You just, like, appeared out of, like, nowhere.”
  118.  
  119. I stare. Her face is a caricature. Lips are impossibly red, more like blood. It looks painful. Eyelashes are jet black. Eyes, shaded in pale blue. Her cheeks glow rose-red. Her skin a smooth, even tan. Her teeth shine up white and fresh. Like a picture.
  120.  
  121. She looks at me, in my dirty overalls and leather jacket. My ragged hair is tied up to keep it out of the fur. My mask and goggles hang loose around my neck. My boots are still covered in a mix of mud and oil. She sniffs and cringes. I realise the smell of fresh fruit is coming from her.
  122.  
  123. “Oh you're homeless.”
  124.  
  125. The false pity stings.
  126.  
  127. “I'm from Worster,” I say.
  128.  
  129. “Well, Sorry.” She laughs, nervously. She thinks I'm a bandit. “I don't have any spare change so I'll just be going.”
  130.  
  131. She stumbled onto the tarmac, more concerned with avoiding me than the yellow car accelerating towards her. I grab her, pulling her towards me. She shrieks as we both fall over.
  132.  
  133. Dead Silence moves in before we both hit dirty concrete.
  134.  
  135. “Get off me you freak!”
  136.  
  137. Her voice stabs my ears as she pushes herself up. I hear her heeled shoes take a step before she stops. I hear her breathing heavily.
  138.  
  139. “Where'd everyone go”
  140.  
  141. Around us, dead Detroit again. I sit up, looking at her look around, struggling to comprehend. She takes a step onto the road. Then back towards me. She steps towards the Target shop, jaw hanging open.
  142.  
  143. “We're out of the echoe,” I say, getting my bearings.
  144.  
  145. “Echo?”
  146.  
  147. She looks at me for an explanation. I see the first flash of desperation in her eyes.
  148.  
  149. “I think.” I say, before stopping. Only then did I realise how much danger I'd been in. I hadn't even thought about getting out. I gather myself. Worry about it later. “I heard someone say they were like that.”
  150.  
  151. “Like what?”
  152.  
  153. She pleads for an answer.
  154.  
  155. “Like what the world was before the Crash.”
  156.  
  157. My voice is calm. Isn't it obvious?
  158.  
  159. “Crash?”
  160.  
  161. How could she not know? I wonder.
  162.  
  163. We both reach the same conclusion at the same time. But only she screams. She is not in her Kansas anymore.
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