Concrete and rubble line the sidewalks. The once bustling city whose skyline seemed to stretch to the heavens looked more like a junkyard to Apricot. As she walks the soggy blood-stained streets, she took in the sights, the aftermath of a freshly undecayed nightmare. The long stretch of road is lined with soldiers pulling bodies from the fallen buildings. She passes a pair of soldiers who hoist a body into the back of a large convoy truck. Gazing inside a hundred faces with dead eyes look back at her. Stacked on one another as though they were lumber.
Had she made the right choice. Was the reaper lying? He was. Nothing could restore the world from this nightmare. These were the dead and the price of a new future. A future without these wicked haunts. In her heart she knew she had done the right thing. A teenage Uchellen boy in a green shirt hangs out his window. Apricot meets his sights, the two look at each other and she knew they both were thinking the same thing. How do we continue from this?
A group of soldiers with guns strapped to their back march past her at the intersection. No one paid any mind to anyone. Instead, everyone is focused on cleaning up. “I guess that is all we can do. Pick up the pieces and go on regardless of what happened.” Apricot thinks to herself. She watches a group of little kids picking up pieces of metal bringing it over to a dumpster.
In the distant she heard a woman crying. Most likely discovering a loved one has died. This was not the happy ending Apricot had hoped for. Sure, the threat is gone, but its stain will be forever etched in her mind. Then out of the blue there it is. A line, where the streets are once again as they should be. No more ruins or rubble. Untouched by the terror that befell the city that dreadful night. This is much to Apricot’s relief. Her family, her family! Apricot raises her eyes before she hustles to her neighborhood as fast as she can.
Opening the gate to her home, everything seems in its proper place. A warmth fills her as she reaches for the doorknob. Wretching her hand around the knob she opens the front door to her quiet home. “Thank goodness.” she says to herself. “Mom, Dad,” Apricot calls out. “Jasper!” taking a few steps inside she closes the door behind her to see the house is as it should be. She walks down the hall to the kitchen. Peaking inside she sees that there are no dishes in the sink. “Everyone must be still asleep.” she concludes.
Walking to the cupboard Apricot opens it to grab a clean glass. Going to the sink she draws herself a glass of cool water. She leans against the sideboard taking a sip. The chill liquid against her lips is refreshing. Taking a look toward the hallway she sees a shadow stretch over the wall. “Jasper?” she calls out.
No answer. Putting the glass down on the sideboard Apricot approaches the hallway. The shadow is coming from the morning light in the living room. She watches the shadow slowly retreat across the wall. She turns the corner from the kitchen into the hallway looking into the living room. The entryway narrows her view forcing her to approach closer. “Mom,” Apricot calls out taking a step. No reply again. “Dad?” she questions. As she walks into the living room, she turns her head to see a disfigured humanoid with Jasper in its claw. Her parents both huddled up in the room’s corner. Half of the things face is missing. Its bottom lip hung several feet from its head exposing its sharp teeth. Its neck stretched out as if dislocated like a goose neck faucet. Its eyes are sunken and white. Another mouth is on its throat and one of its arms is missing. His body flesh came together as though it was melted like wax but clearly is made of flesh.
“Hello, apostle.” the distorted voice of Urias greets Apricot. Her eyes grow large not sure what to make of the thing. “I was waiting for you.” He rasps.
Apricot clutches her fist. Her eyes locked onto the horror in front of her. “Let my family go.” she firmly demands.
She can’t tell where his eyes are looking without pupils to see. “I can’t sense the black god anymore.” he groans. “Where is he?”
Apricot furrows her brow. “Put my little brother down now.”
“I don’t think he is here anymore. I think, you made him go away.” his upper lip stretches into a grin exposing the gums above his teeth. “I think, you are responsible for all this. You ruined everything.” he muses.
“How are you alive?” Apricot asks.
Urias giggles in a childish tone. “Oh, I didn’t. I have been dead for a long time. Care to join me.” He says throwing Jasper from his grasp. He screams as he impacts the living room wall knocking pictures down along with him. Urias charges at Apricot with his one clawed hand. She jumps back into the hallway. His many mouths on his body snappy as he moves. They drool and remind her of weeping sores.
Urias makes another lunge at Apricot. She ducks his arm backing into the kitchen. Urias saunters in through the threshold. “It seems you lost your powers. Mmmmm, no more favors from the black god?” he laughs. Apricot moves to the counter grabbing a pair of knives from a wood block. “Oooo,” Urias groans. “You sure about wanting to fight me? I am sure your blood will call him back.”
Apricot screams diving at him with both knives. He kicks her thigh sending her back a few steps. She covers herself as Urias stands tall eyeing her with a cocked head. She slashes at his long throat but he moves back taking his own swipe at her. She blocks his claw-like fingers with both her hands. He snaps back his claw and nicks her in the ribs. The sound of tearing meat rang in Apricot’s ears. The pain is intense but not deep enough to cause any real effects. She goes in for another strike but he grabs her hand forcing her arm down.
He tosses her back and slices her in the arm with his follow-through. She groans from the pain holding her arm. Urias stands over her, rising to her feet she strikes at him again. He steps back, and she completely misses swinging through open air. She goes around again for another blow but Urias avoids her attack raking his claws down her back. It cuts her jacket clean open exposing the shirt and torn skin beneath.
She bends from the pain before Urias comes at her again. This time she grabs his wrist holding it up. She takes the other knife and rakes it against the pale flesh of his stomach. It slices open releasing a horrible smell. He steps back gazing at her with an open jaw. His lower lip dangling as he does so. His teeth are like little spear points reminding her of a fish’s mouth. His eyes lock onto her. The wound is deep. She can tell as the black bubbling blood coming from it seeps out like sap from a tree.
Urias charges into Apricot knocking her onto the counter top knocking several things aside as he latches to her throat. She lets out a gasp as she takes both knives and stabs them into his wrist flaying through his forearm. Urias lets go but does not back away. Apricot uses the counter to kick him in the face pushing him back into her fridge. She gets back onto her feet letting out a groan from the pain burning in her back.
Urias dives toward her again his hand going for her neck. Apricot drops onto her knees using both knives she stabs them into his lower calves and raises them up the length of his legs. He falls backwards onto the ground screaming out in pain. Diving onto of his horrid body Apricot places both the knives to his neck slashing them against one another severing his head. Urias looks up releasing a squelching gasp.
Rising to her feet Apricot looks down at the gasping head. She regards the desperate movements before she raises her foot and stomps on his skull crushing it like a grapefruit. She looks down huffing catching her breath. Her body seething with anger. Covered in inky black blood Apricot walks into her living room to see her parents taped up in the corner. “I think, it’s over now.”
Images of a dull burgundy glow flashes into Apricot’s mind as she lays asleep in deep slumber. The annoying buzzing keeps ringing in her ears. The fog of sleep lifts, she opens her eyes from the darkness to see her room transitioning between a red glow and shade. She turns her head to her alarm clock and hits the alarm switch with her hand, disregarding the time. Pushing her covers off her she feels the slab patches on her back. She looks out the window to see blue skies. “It’s nice to see the morning without fear again.” she says aloud.
Rolling out of bed Apricot goes to her closet looking through her clothes. She grabs a red and white striped shirt throwing it onto her bed along with a pair of black jeans with several fashionable tears down the legs. She looks over at her clothes giving a soft smile.
This is her first breakfast at home since they released her from the hospital. As she walks down the stairs she could smell her mother’s home cooked green onion miso and grilled salmon. It carries her into the kitchen where she sheepishly enters the room. “Good morning,” Apricot chirps not able to look at her family.
Her mother caries a plate of cooked rice into the living room. “Apricot can you get the soup kettle.” She nods her head taking the warm kettle with a pair of pot holders in hand. Her father is already seated at the table next to Jasper. She lowers her eyes to the floor as she sets the kettle onto the table. Sitting herself next to her mother Apricot bows her head.
“Sis,” Apricot looks up to see Jasper smile beaming at her. His neck in is restrained in a white collar. “Are you like a super hero or something?”
“No,” Apricot softly replies.
“Well, you saved our lives. You are my hero.” Jasper tells her with a smile. A few tears roll down his cheek. Apricot furrows her brow at his expression.
She fights the feelings welling up inside her chest snapping back “That is not very manly little boy.”
Jasper opens his jaw at her reply. “What! I am a man.” Apricot smiles. This, this was how home is supposed to be. “Dad tell her!”
The morning banter fills Apricot with joy. Her eyes ablaze as she takes in this special moment. Her mother and fathers boring conversation fills her with comfort. Jaspers little nerd comments. This is what life is supposed to be. When the nightmare is over.
Her leg vibrates, she draws her phone from her side to see the words “Okabe Government” on the screen. She closes her eyes knowing all good things come to an end. Her moment of serenity, lost.
The white marble floors of the Okabe capitol building shines like silver. They are polished to perfection. As she walks the hall alone, she looks around to see the pictures and art pieces lining their face. They made her feel uncomfortable. The smell of the building itself is unnatural. She could not place her finger on it but it reminds her of something like pepper. As she approaches the high council’s conference room, she feels her throat closing like so many times before.
It is strange that they allowed her to voluntarily show up. Not that she could escape even if she wanted to. She enters into a world of black and white once inside the courtroom. Everything is silver gray and black. The large lights above lit the room pure white, their glow nearly blinding Apricot. Surrounding the floor of the room is a circle of long metallic desks. Each one of them seated several young children. In the middle is a child about the age of thirteen at most.
“Apricot Signa, thank you for your cooperation.” he says to her in a firm tone.
Apricot eyes the room inspecting each of the council members and not one of them appear to be any older than the boy in the middle. Her life is being decided by children? How could this be possible? “Your welcome, pardon, but I do not know how to address you.” she says not entirely sure of what she walked into.
“Forgive me, I am not familiar with these formalities myself. My name is Yushio Okabe, I am the inaugurate emperor.” He clears his throat. “These circumstances are unusual. I ask that you bare with me.”
Apricot nods her head. “Of course. I understand.” Inaugurate, that’s right. Kyo is gone. There is no formal emperor of Okabe at this time. So this young boy is thrust into the position. That made sense but the rest of the children sitting as officials did not.
“The events that have unfolded the last few months have been a long series of unfortunate events. The results of which have ravaged the lives of everyone living in Okabe. You are one of the few people living to have first hand knowledge of these events.” Apricot could feel her palms getting sweaty. “There are holes in our investigation. You see, the last administration did not leave us clear records. We do have a thorough understanding of your role in this. Empress Kyo had a clear interest in you, and Shiori of the Kinjo clan. Do you have any knowledge of this?”
“I do.” Apricot acknowledges deciding it is best to stay truthful.
The young boy nods his head. “Good, well, I understand they arrested you for an act of terrorism against the Okabe government. Shiori Kinjo along with a small group of people attempted to usurp the rightful rule of the Okabe family. Were you in fact a willing participant in that act?”
Apricot nods her head not ushering a word from her lips.
“Interesting. What you may not be aware of, perhaps you are, Empress Kyo murdered my grand uncle. Mitsura Okabe. She was in fact a rebel herself. Her actions were vile. Look around Apricot. All of us were touched intimately by these events. This is what remains of the Okabe empire. We are children not rulers. Everyone else is dead.” his face remains stone cold. “We understand our history. You have spent years investigating those subjects. You must have known at that time of the corruption that found a home in our family.” Apricot does not answer. “Our council has spent several hours deliberating on what exactly to do with you. You are a liability.” He informs Apricot.
A pain in her chest wells up. Like someone is squeezing every vein in her body all at once. “I will make a deal with you. I will offer you a complete and total pardon for all crimes you have committed. In return you never talk about the reality of the incident to anyone ever again. Do I have your agreement?”
“That sounds fair, I agree.” Apricot says.
He nods. “I foresee no further action from the Okabe government regarding you. For your comfort I will inform you that we are dismantling everything Kyo and Mitsura had assembled. While there is disagreement among the council regarding my planned actions, we agree that what they tried to achieve was pure madness. There will be no more insane projects going foreward while under my rule. However, on another note. We have yet to locate Shiori Kinjo who is of deep interest to us. You would not know of his whereabouts?”
“I do not.” Apricot solemnly says. The young boy glances over to a girl seated next to him.
“She is telling the truth.” the girl comments looking at a screen in front of her.
“All right,” he groans letting out a long sigh. “Our conclusions must be true. Shiori has escaped in secret back to the Kinjo clan. Apricot, I have restored your citizenship to Okabe. Your social credit has been restored to its former value as well. Your jade marks have also been returned to you in full. Your license as a journalist has been permanently revoked. You are fore bayed from taking part in any form of journalism. I hope you understand seeing as how things are. I would consider you a hero if not for the circumstances that led up to these events.” Apricot felt a lump grow in her throat. She held back the tears knowing her future has just been taken away from her. However, she knew deep down journalism isn’t something she could return to after what she had experienced. “However, in consolation I have arranged for you to receive your full pension as though you had fulfilled your duty as a state journalist. I suggest you pursue a life abroad or whatever life you would have wanted instead of journalism. You may leave.”
With a half-eaten burger in hand Apricot sits surrounded by her friends. Machi’s mouth is wrapped around a burrito as she wrestles to take a bite of the steak inside. “So, like I said, I got this new issue of Eerie Truths! No more Claw Fingers sightings but check this one out.” Bonni tosses the magazine onto the cast iron picnic table. “The valkyrie of Okabe!” reads the top of the article. Several shady images of a girl can be made out but the static on the images make it far too hard to make out any detail. “It’s like we got a super hero!” Bonni laughs.
Apricot smiles to herself. “Thank goodness for Akagi.”
Snapping her head away Machi quickly chews her food gulping down the wad. “Bonni, you can’t even see anything in the pictures! It could be just some random person.” she barks.
“Pshh! Like whatever Machi!” Bonni retorts. “A monster could slap you in the face and you would deny it even existed. What about the monsters who attacked the city a few weeks ago!”
“Everyone knows it was a chemical hallucination. People just went into a frenzy.“ Machi retorts back to Bonni. Solenne gives Apricot a knowing smile. A small blush covers Apricot’s face as she could not hide the truth from Solenne anymore. She knew everything and for some reason that brought her some comfort. “Girls, girls, does it really matter?” Sato says attempting to deescalate the situation.
“Shut up Sato!” the two yell at him together.
“Well that is something they agree on.” Apricot laughs.
Sato rubs his head grinning. “So what do you say we go to a late-night movie?”
Looking across the street Apricot sees Hunter and grins. “Sorry Sato, but I got a night shift again; clean up duty. You know how it is.”