Peripheral Vision, Chapter Eleven

Probably going to be a bit of a delay on the next episode of 108.3, again. Sorry, something out of my control. Shouldn’t be too long before it’s out, though.

Also, we’re definitely getting into the “third act” of Peripheral Vision, now. Not too much longer before it’ll all be wrapped up, I think.

~

Caroline had never had tripencorquine before, and had no idea what it was supposed to do. She figured it out pretty quickly, however, and was walking down a road singing at the top of her voice – something she couldn’t recall having done ever before. It felt good, letting emotion pour out and relaxation pour in through the song.
She wasn’t sure where the words were coming from. She hadn’t heard many songs in her life, at least not since her childhood. She thought it might’ve been something her mother sang to her on late nights when neither of them could sleep. She had a memory of seeing, through her eyelids drooping with sleep, a tear running down her mother’s cheek as she hummed the music.
A shiver ran down her spine as she walked and sang. She didn’t feel hunger, she didn’t feel pain, she didn’t even feel her legs as she walked for hour upon hour.
She sat down a while later beside the road, realizing suddenly she had no idea where she was going. She laid down on the pavement and found that waves of physical euphoria were running up and down her entire body. Her eyes started to get tired and her mind fuzzy, so she decided to rest for a little while there on the ground.
When she woke up, the sky had darkened. Or the sky was darker, but there was something else shielding her from the light. She sat up and blinked her eyes a few times and found that a boy and girl, each seeming to be about fifteen, were standing above her. Neither of them seemed aware that she had sat up, and were talking to each other.
“What do you think we should do with her?”
“I dunno. Is she dead?”
“She’s not dead, you dumbass.”
“How do you know?”
They both looked at her.
“See?”
Caroline struggled to her feet, and almost fell down immediately after from a sudden head-spin. Neither of the kids seemed to notice or pay attention to her and were talking again as if she was still asleep.
“Well, what should we do with her, still?”
“I dunno. Just bring her back, I guess.”
“Uh, hey, who are you two?” Caroline asked.
“Why do you want to know?” the girl responded, shifting her hips to one side.
“Well, I assume you probably want to know who I am.”
The girl and boy looked at each other, then turned back to Caroline. “Not really,” the boy said with a smirk.
“Listen, okay, whatever,” Caroline said, “But do either of you know where I could find some food? I haven’t eaten since yesterday.”
“Join the club,” the girl said.
They stood in silence for a while, Caroline unsure of what to say in response.
“Bring me back where?” she said.
“To camp,” the boy responded.
“Okay, sure, bring me back there, I guess.”
“Should we?” the girl asked the boy.
He shrugged and started walking away.
“Guess that’s a yes,” she said, and followed him, with Caroline trailing behind.
They walked a distance away from the road until they crossed upon another, smaller, strip of pavement. They continued down this until they walked through a gate and into what seemed to Caroline to be a junkyard. Mountains of trash lay in a timeworn topography. Once they had made it partway into the area, Caroline began to see a few oddly-constructed buildings – hardly buildings, even, more just ramshackle structures that seemed ready to collapse.
In a cleared-out section a campfire was burning, with a few people sitting around it. They, just as the boy and girl, were clothed in either extremely worn clothing or stitched-together pieces of fabric of an unclear former use.
“Jenna, Oliver, I was wondering where you two were. And who’s this you’ve brought back with you?”
“She’s, uh,” Oliver looked up at Caroline. “Tell mom your name.”
“Hi, I’m Caroline,” she said, extending her arm to shake the woman’s hand. “And you…?”
“I’m Bethany, mother of these two as you might’ve guessed.”
Caroline nodded, looking around. “So, what is this place?”
“This is our home,” Bethany said. “All three dozen of us have made this our place for the past thirty years.”
“How can you live here, though? No offense, of course,” she said, drawing back, “but it doesn’t seem like the most ideal location.”
“That’s true. It isn’t. But it gives us access to an almost unlimited supply of materials to work with, and is set apart from the city far enough that we aren’t bothered, for the most part. It’s quite rare anyone wanders out here as you did.”
“I see,” said Caroline. “Um. I don’t want to impose or anything, but… You’re sure you don’t have any food? Your children said there wasn’t.”
“No, I’m sorry. There isn’t any. We may be getting some soon, though, and you’re welcome to share with us.”
“Alright. Do you at least have some water, though?” Caroline asked. “I haven’t had anything to drink since yesterday.”
“Sure, we still have some,” Bethany said and, turning to a young man siting next to her and sewing, talked to him. “Could you go get Caroline a glass of water?”
He nodded without speaking, set his sewing aside, and got up and walked away. Caroline found an upturned bucket nearby which she sat upon while waiting, looking around the settlement. She saw mothers and fathers sitting outside of what was presumably their family’s shelter, children running around with mud-stained feet and ankles, and several people hunched over tables working on something. She gestured to one of them and spoke to Bethany.
“What are they doing?” she asked.
“Building things. I think Uruthai there is building a defense weapon right now, in particular.”
Caroline faced the woman and squinted, trying to see the object.
“As I said earlier,” Bethany continued, “this junkyard provides us with almost unlimited resources. We’ve found ways to repurpose almost everything, whether into shelters, weapons, technology, tools, or nearly anything else. Sometimes a few people will travel to the city to sell some things and buy food.”
Caroline realized then what a box-like metallic object she had previously assumed was a heap of scrap metal was; a computer. A single cable led off of it and up a pole and was attched to both an antenna and round, slightly concave, shiny metal object. Bethany noticed Caroline looking at it.
“I see you’ve found one of our computers. Easy enough for some of our engineers to build. The disc at the top of that pole is a device which converts thermal energy into electricity. The antenna is for keeping in touch with a few other groups.”
“There are other settlements like this?” Caroline asked, turning back to Bethany.
“Ah, yes, there are a couple. But we need to keep an eye on a few… other things as well.”
At that moment, the young man returned with a rusted metal cup, which he handed to Caroline. She started to bring it to her lips, but noticed the muddy color of the liquid.
“Water?” she asked.
“Oh, yes, sorry,” Bethany said. “Hard to get it purified around here.” She patted down her pockets until she found what she was looking for, a glass and metal tube about five inches long and an inch in diameter. She handed it to Caroline.
“Drink through that,” she said. “It filters the water and takes out most of the impurities.”
Caroline turned it over in her hand, unsure of how much she trusted that it would clean the water, but her thirst overcame her and she began sucking the water through it. Cool water, remoisturizing her parched mouth and throat. It had a slightly earthy flavor, almost like a stronger tasting version of well water, but it wasn’t offputting. She took a breath when the glass was half-empty, and remembered she hadn’t taken an anti-radiation pill yet. She took the bottle out of her pocket and shook out a pill into her hand, popped it into her mouth, and resumed drinking. She hadn’t noticed it earlier, or perhaps passed it off as aftereffects of the tripencorquine, but a shallow, underlying nausea had begun building up in her again.
When she finished the glass, she found that Bethany and the young man were staring intently at her.
“Are those… the pills?” Bethany asked.
“Uh, yeah. I hadn’t taken one yet today.”
The woman continued staring at her, wide-eyed. “Could… could I have one?”
“I… guess so,” Caroline said. “Why?”
“One of the downsides in living here. Our supply of the pills is limited. When we sell things in town we try to get what we can, but it’s rarely enough to go around. How many do you have?”
“About twenty-five,” she said.
The woman nodded without a word, then hesitantly looked up at Caroline. “I know this will sound rather presumptive, but… Would you mind giving us maybe twenty of them?”
Caroline took a sharp breath. “I… I understand why you need them, but I’m not exactly in a situation where I can easily get them myself. So,” she trailed off without completing the sentence.
The young man beside Bethany stood up with a stone-like face and walked away.
Bethany leaned in closer and spoke pleadingly. “Please, Caroline, you can’t imagine how in need of it some of us are right now. Some haven’t had a pill in weeks. Most people here die before fifty.”
Caroline looked down at the bottle and sighed, thinking. She needed them badly and had no idea where she’d get more, but she if she understood the least bit of what it was like here, she wouldn’t be able to forgive herself for not helping these people.
She emptied the bottle into her hands and looked at the pills. Five? She was sure that wouldn’t last her until she achieved her goal. But she had no idea if she would, or could complete that goal, and these people were struggling just to survive day to day.
She counted out five pills and put them in one of her pockets, then poured the rest back into the bottle and handed it back to Bethany. When she looked up at her, tears were beginning to form in her eyes.
“Thank you. So much. You have no idea what you’ve done for us.”
A person standing at the computer turned to face the center of the settlement and spoke in a loud voice. “They’re coming!”
Bethany smiled at Caroline. “Looks like we’ll be able to give you some food after all.”

I think it’s time I returned for Stephen, for a short time at least. His upcoming section may not align perfectly with the timeline here, but it’s hard to tell given the time fluctuation within the virtual world. As it would happen, this section of his story ties in nicely with upcoming sections for Caroline and Gerome. In any case, I think it’s time we took a break from Caroline’s mamby-pamby, wishy-washy, “self sacrifice out of kindness” story.

Stephen woke up, and for the first time in forever, he thought, he remembered his dream in perfect detail. He was living in a world very unlike his own. It was not happy. It was not bright, sunny, perfectly temperatured. It was dark, cold, rainy, sickening, and depraved. It was a world he did not want to live in.
He was walking along a road, carrying a bag of money and valuables, with a dark glee. He had just done something he may have regretted, yes, but he was still glad he did it. It would help him, in the long run. Besides, those people didn’t matter anyway.
He felt a sudden urge to run. He had everything he needed, now. He could finally get out of this horrible world.
He ran to his house. It was large, compared to many others that he saw, but in disrepair, paint peeling and cracking, walls battered, and some windows cracked or shattered.
Just one phone call and he would be gone. It was a dark glee, for sure, but he reveled in it.
Yes, it was just a dream, but he had a horrid sense of remembrance and deja vu surrounding it. Deja vu wasn’t real, he assured himself. It’s just a little trick of the mind, often surrounding dreams. But he thought it usually worked the other way around, that in real life he’d feel like something had happened before in a dream. Those were just technicalities, though. It couldn’t be something real. All he had ever known was peace and happiness, even through his childhood.
He thought these things with his eyes closed in the moment of awakening. But just as he wished to get away from the land of sleep and thus opened his eyes, he saw his house building itself.
Not brick by brick, wood plank by wood plank, sheetrock by sheetrock, but a network of polygons that slowly filled in with textures, paused for a moment, then snapped into high definition and was instantly “real” again.
Stephen blinked. He didn’t know what had just happened, nor did he want to know. No, he assured himself, he was just seeing things. Too distracted with his dream that his mind decided to play a trick on him.
He sat up and was instantly dizzy. His bedside table was not there. He set his hand where it should have been and there was definitely a solid object there, but nothing to be seen. He ran his hand along it and in the process of that, knocked over what seemed to be the glass of water he kept there.
Water appeared, dripping onto the floor. A moment later, the glass and shortly afterward the table itself re-materialized, in much the same way his house had a few seconds earlier.
He took a deep breath and ran his fingers through his hair. A trick of the mind, or eyes, or something, that was all. That was all it could be. It had to be. There was no other explanation.
Through his mind ran a stream of images and memories of his past few weeks. Odd things that seemed to have no explanation. Peter’s disappearance, Bartholomew’s odd behavior, his increasingly strange dreams, and so on.
Maybe he should talk with Bartholomew. Anyone. No, he should see a psychiatrist. That had to be the only thing to do right now.

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