"I only have ten more chapters left!" I said genuinely happy to finally finish my new favorite book. I slumped my backpack in the seat next to my own and stretched my legs out so that they reached the seat across from me. My mother smiled at me as she sat by my feet.
"Do you think you'll have enough time to finish it?" She asked before covering her mouth to yawn. Large bags under her bright eyes made me tilt my head in confusion.
She didn't sleep last night. Why?
"I hope so!" I said ignoring my inner thoughts and smiling brightly at her. My mood suddenly shifted as the train rattled alive and for a brief second, I was paralyzed. However, my smile never faltered. Over the years, it became easier and easier to put on a fake smile. Even in the worst of situations, it was like slipping into a pair of old sneakers. My lips would automatically curl upwards with ease whenever a situation caused panic to rise in my chest.
When I could move again, I pulled out headphones from my bag and nodded as my mother said something noncommittal about my book. Her voice was quickly drowned out by the sound of mainstream music. I tried hard to concentrate on the novel in my hands, The Dangers of Angels, but my fingers pressed so hard against the pages, that the tips had gone completely white.
Why am I so, anxious? I shook my head and refocused on the novel.
Hal Atikins, the protagonist, is the definition of hero. He is the perfect combination of valiant and foolish. He is willing to risk his life for the girl of his dreams, Skylar Short, with her long hair, sweet disposition, and quick wit, she comes off as the ultimate girlfriend. I think there's something off about her... She's too perfect and gives off crazy girl vibes. Of course, Hal doesn't see it. He is too blinded by love. Poor boy isn't really credited for his brains. Like most clichés, Skylar somehow got kidnapped and now it's up to Hal to sort the mess out. Currently, Hal is trying to infiltrate the enemy’s secret lair. The book really isn’t that original, but it has just enough twists to keep me interested.
My mother tapped me on the knee, and I pulled my headphones out of my ears. The conductor's monotone voice played into the speakers and my stomach twisted like a towel that had been wrung out one too many times. I could feel my lips twitching as I fought a losing battle to keep them pressed in a straight line.
"We’ll be arriving and Pendulum Station shortly. Please watch the gap as you leave the train. And remember breathing healthy, means being happy."
There is a low mumble on the train as we repeated the community's first code of conduct. I noticed my mother's voice was strained and I fumbled on a couple of words in the phrase. It was after the mantra that I noticed a pair of deep, blue eyes staring at me. He stood by the train doors, his eyes piercing through the glass that separated us. His brown, scruffy hair was neatly brushed to one side and his navy suit made me think he was probably finished with school, but still looking for a job. I smiled to him out of courtesy, but he didn't reciprocate and instead looked out the window. I shrugged and followed his gaze.
The inner city looked the way it always does. A lot of it is made up of skyscrapers that take up entire blocks. However, most of them have been abandoned for years because they're contaminated and the government has been staling to tear them down. There once was a huge tourist attraction at the empire state building, but people were forced to stop going after Infected were found living in some of the old offices. They even boarded up all the entrances and windows to stop anyone else from hiding out in there, but I doubt that it’s still vacant. I was always curious to see what it would be like to stand on the highest floor, but I was born a few decades too late. I did however, see lady liberty get taken down so I guess, I really can't complain about not seeing anything cool.
The city wasn't always called Pendulum. It was named after Eric Pendulum. He didn't really do anything important other than be the nephew of Robert Stone. Stone was the one who found the cure. The buildings no longer resembled square blobs, but individual towers and I knew we were slowing down. I looked at my book.
"I have to save her," Hal thought as the factory finally came into view. "I have to tell her I'm sorry for neglecting her." The old factory used to be bright, blue with giant windows that let the sun shine through. Now, however, all the windows were either shattered or spray painted black and its bubbly exterior had become a dull, grey color, like a rain cloud about to burst. "I have to tell her I love her one more time."
Two Burly men blocked the entrance of the factory, but it didn't stop Hal. In fact, his blood flooded with adrenaline as he pulled out a small knife from his cargo pants. Hal threw it without hesitation. Like a coat that has fallen off its rack, the man to the left of the door crumbled to the ground. The afternoon sun reflected against his face and something shiny glistened between his eyes. The man no longer looks dangerous and intimidating, but young and foolish. His partner, stared in awe at his dead friend and he quickly cocked his gun.
Hal's fists collided with flesh and bone. His knuckles cracked as he broke the second guard's nose. The man stumbled backwards, clutching his face. Hal didn't allow him to take another step as he dug his heel into the man's unprotected stomach. The guard caught Hal's foot, but was not fast enough to see Hal's roundhouse kick before it was too late. Both men fell to the ground, but it was only Hal who stood up victoriously. The champion wiped a mixture of spit and blood off with the back of his hand. He picked up one of the guns lying on the ground and walked into the factory.
"Sky!" Hal cried when he-
The train had stopped and my body felt like, the day after a marathon, limp and weak. I don't understand why I am so, apprehensive… This is supposed to be a special day. An extra happy day. For once in a long time, I had to force a smile on my face, but it felt wrong and my lips tried to conspire against me, as they stitched together and refused to part. I put away my headphones and book as my mother filed out of the train with the rest of the crowd. We didn't really have any serious conversations on the ride over here... Should we have?
I let a few kids pass by me as I got off the train and I noticed some of them were wearing jerseys.
Maybe there’s sports game in the city today?
For a moment, I forgot why I was in the city, but I was reminded all too quickly as I spotted my mother waiting for me by the exit.
"Did you get to finish your book?" She asked me as we left the station. A rather large lump formed in my throat and it made it hard to speak so, I just pressed my lips together and shook my head. My mother frowned. "I'm sorry honey."
"It's okay," I said, finally finding my voice. "I don't really mind." I locked arms with hers as we walked out of the station. Cold air nipped at my cheeks, chin, and nose turning them a light shade of pink. I asked my mother if she wanted to take a taxi, but she said she would rather walk. I didn't really mind it though, because now I had an excuse for my trembling.
We walked in silence for fifteen minutes and my eyes wandered from building to building. Most of them were contaminated and I tried to imagine what their original purpose was. What did people do in the offices? What did they wear? Were they happy?
My mother stopped in front of a building that simply read 525. My head slowly cranked upwards as my eyes tried to scale the size. It was grey and ominous like the factory in my book. I hesitated to keep moving forward and my mother had to drag me by my coat sleeve just to get me inside the building.
A heavyset man with dark skin and no hair greeted us with a warm smile. We smiled back, out of politeness. Large silver letters on the back wall read: BREATHING HEALTHY MEANS BEING HAPPY. It was sleek and modern like the lobby desk in front of it. The older gentleman looked out of place with his purple and blue sweater and wrinkles. Before we could even say hello, the man pulled out hand sanitizer and poured a drop on our palms.
"How are we doing today?" The man inquired after a beat of awkward standing and smiling.
"Are you here for appointment day?" He turned to face my mother.
"No!" My mother replied too quickly, which made my chest constrict a little. "But... She is." Her voice was suddenly filled with regret and I wondered if she felt this way when Phoebe had to go for her appointment. The man didn't notice the change in her tone and his gaze shifted towards me.
"Hello," I said trying to smile, but my lips kept shaking. The old man just gave me a toothy grin.
"Can you write down your name, the date and time on this form, for me?" He placed a clipboard in front of me with a list of names already on it. I scribbled my signature on the third line from the bottom of the page. When I finished signing, he practically ripped the form away from my hands. The man pulled out another bottle of sanitizer and vigorously wiped his own hands and the clipboard until he broke a sweat. "Your appointment will be on floor eleven." He said wiping his forehead with the back of his hand. I nodded, slipping another fake smile onto my face and feeling my stomach churn.
I turned to my mother and her, who began to look blurry. Her arms wrapped around me too tightly and I felt like an open tube of toothpaste as she squeezed a few teardrops out of me. I gripped her back and took in a slow, deep breath. The man at the desk cleared his throat and we were forced to let go of each other.
We were hugging for too long... The man shook his head at us, as if we were children and we've just done something wrong.
"You don't want to be late for your appointment." The man joked. He let out a laugh that sounded both strained and cartoonish. My mother and I both laughed out of courtesy. "Floor eleven." He repeated, his lips spreading to show too many of his teeth.
The lobby wasn't that large and the elevator was only a few paces away from the desk. My legs wobbled as I walked toward the elevator and pressed the up button. I looked over my shoulder at my mother, she was trying to keep it together, but I knew she was struggling just as much as I was.
"Remember, breathing healthy means being happy." The old man's words felt like a slap across my face and I gritted my teeth.
The elevator dinged when it arrived and my stomach twisted into a knot, as I entered the cart alone. I pressed my number and waited for the doors to close. My eyes never turned away from my mother. "Bye Mama," I gave her a small wave.
"Bye, Baby." She said just before placing her hands over her mouth. Her eyes filled with tears and she tried to stifle a sob, as the elevator doors closed the space between us. She blew me a kiss and I grabbed it like it was real and tangible. I quickly looked back up for one last glance at her, but I found myself just staring at an obscure version of my reflection. I slowly placed my mother's kiss on my cheek and didn’t let go of my face until I reached my floor.
Hi guys! I am new to Tapas and I'm really glad to be sharing my work with all of you! If you like what I got, please leave a like or a comment and check me out on Wattpad @petlover002. Fun Fact: Shakespeare's signature is worth 5 million dollars!