The Melancholy, Part 3, a White Christmas
Norah looked at the church across the street from the cave-like structure Todd had brought her to. The church was little bigger than any of the buildings people called homes, and the cave Norah was in hardly helped keep out the cold.
Todd was outside- he’d locked the door- and was keeping a closer eye on the proceedings in the church. While she waited for the Fighter to return, Norah kept thinking about the once-Zombie, Sean- and his last words.
‘I wanted peace. It’s Christmas.’
Why had he said something like that? It irritated and interested Norah, but she didn’t want to have anything to do with it- especially sense it was now too late. He was dead and she couldn’t help him anymore.
The door unlocked and Todd reentered the room, motioning for her to come. She was led and half dragged to the side of the church, where they had already set up the machinery, arranging the equipment to be able to transfer the emotion she came up with to everyone inside. Everything was ready and Norah realized that this was it.
She looked in through a crack in the wall, to see her unwitting victims. There seemed to be lots of people inside, but what she noticed especially was a simple and rather idiotic looking nativity scene set up at the far end of the room. The box holding the jewels Todd was after sat nearby, but Norah’s attention was focused on the nativity scene and she could feel her nerves tying up into knots that threatened to bring tears to her eyes- tears of a confused, startled and desperately sad sort.
“Christener, get on with it,” Todd said, any humor gone from his voice. Norah looked at him, frustrated with the situation and so frustrated with whatever problem came up against her- and that happened to be Todd’s clear dislike of her.
“Why does everyone hate Christeners?” She asked, annoyed.
“You’re hopeless and so…” Todd thought for a moment, finishing: “Melancholy.” He was about to go on when he changed his mind and added, “I don’t have time for this. Get going, I’m ready to go in.”
Norah did as he said, turning away and trying not to think about what she was doing. She tried to tell herself to just think about something peaceful- she hummed a soft, pleasant tune, like a lullaby- and concentrated the emotion. That was all she had to do, thankfully- the machine would do the rest.
But Norah couldn’t stop thinking about Sean. No matter how hard she tried her thoughts strayed in that direction, followed by her emotions. The tune she hummed turned to a mournful song that she sang softly.
Several minutes passed, unawares to her. Her mind was going over the past- tragedies she’d been trying to forget about that everything here- Sean, the church, the Nativity scene, Christmas- brought back.
Suddenly she heard her name yelled out from inside. She turned and looked in through the crack, in time to see that everyone inside, including Todd, were distraught and sorrowful, in a pitiable state. Todd had made it to the bounty, but he’d drawn away from it as though alarmed by his intentions. Then he turned and ran out the way he’d come.
A minute later he rounded the corner, reeling from shock and confusion, but evidently regaining his own feelings. Norah had quickly withdrawn the headpiece of the machine and, not allowing a minute to pass, they both made their way from there, but only went as far as the building opposite.
“I couldn’t take it,” Todd muttered, in disbelief, “I didn’t… deserve it.”
“No, I didn’t deserve it,” Norah said, crying, “That was my emotion.”
“You did it on purpose…” he looked at her, but then asked slowly, “What happened? I could tell… it had something to do with the Zombies. You have something to do with them.”
“It’s our fault,” the words came tumbling out, let loose by the day’s events, “We were testing the EPT on a large group of people. It was Christmastime and we tried to give them peace,” she spoke between sobs, “You can’t just put peace into people’s heads, because there is no peace. That’s why they get the way they do when they’re dying- they become more human.”
Todd was staring at her. He seemed to understand her- he had felt her emotions- but he was confused still.
“Wait,” he said, “They’re… Christmas zombies?” He laughed, purely from disbelief, “How can someone become a zombie just because of a failed attempt to peace in their heads?”
“Have you ever had a white Christmas?” She asked. He couldn’t answer. The idea of snow, after what had happened to the world, was ridiculous. There were no holidays now, only memories that had become legends. Norah went on, “That’s what we were trying to do; give some homeless people a chance to have something no one’s had. And… it’s impossible, there’s no such thing as a perfect ‘tree and presents’ Christmas. That’s what they’ve been looking for, that’s why Sean wanted peace. But the EPT is the last place where he would find it!”
Todd thought over what she said for a moment, and then asked slowly, “Why didn’t you let me take the loot?”
“That didn’t have anything to do with me. I- I let it get away with me, but I didn’t mean to do that,” she was desperate, hoping the Fighter wouldn’t think she’d tricked him. She looked at him sidelong, but there was a thoughtful, unhappy look on his face.
“We can go and try again,” she said quietly. The other shook his head.
“There’s no way I could go and do that now,” he answered, “Before- all I wanted was to get out of here and spend the rest of my life, however long that is, in… well, in peace. Going in there and feeling,” he shuddered, “Feeling that…” he didn’t finish.
He shook himself, as though shaking off dust, and looked at her.
“Well, there are no more white Christmases- definitely not like that old song,” he said, “But I refuse to believe there’s no peace. If the Zombies want peace- that’s what we have to give them.”
The Melancholy, Part 2, Sean Seeks for Peace
Norah didn’t move, waiting to see what he would do. She’d seen enough of his fighting to know that there was no point in trying to get away.
“What do you want?” She finally asked. Her thoughts were not completely occupied with trying to process the threat she suddenly found herself in- there’d been enough danger around so neither of them acted as though there was any danger intended now, only as though they were carrying on a tense conversation, so Norah’s thoughts were partially busy with curiosity. She did not understand why Todd- a thorough Fighter- would want anything to do with a machine like the EPT, except possibly to sell it.
Todd motioned to his motorcycle, answering, “Just get on and I’ll explain it while we go.”
Norah did as he said, now too curious to bother finding a way to free herself. The Fighter started going, pumping both his legs up and down in a rhythmic way and they went on toward the exit.
Todd didn’t speak until they reached a dirt road that ran behind some buildings and would take them directly to the place where the EPT was. Once there he began.
“So, your machine lets someone imply a feeling, or even a thought to someone else…” he began, “You generally use it when a kid’s dying and his parents want him happy, right?”
“How many people can it work on at one time?”
Norah didn’t answer at once. The question was a little too close for comfort. Finally she said, “It’s possible to set it up so it can affect a small room full of people.”
Todd laughed triumphantly. He said, “An important collection of old jewels- from before Zombies and Fighters and Christeners- will be arriving at one of those new churches, to be set up for reminiscing and sentimentality. It’s a small room, we’ll be able to set up the EPT, you will imply some emotion- probably peacefulness or happiness- and I’ll be able to go in and get the stuff.”
“But it’s Christmas Eve!”
Todd laughed, amazed by her dismay. He said, “You can sing Silent Night then- you usually sing, right, to give a stronger emotion?”
“But what about you? If you go in there it will affect you just as much!”
Todd nodded, saying, and not sounding very happy about it, “I’ll have to risk that. I’m going to head straight in there, get what I want and then come out, regardless of what I’m feeling. I’m thinking, too, that sense it’s in a church- or what they’re calling a church- those people are seeking peace and solace, and that’s what you’ll be giving them. I’m focused on the cash- I’ll just get what I need and get out.”
Yes, this was much too close for comfort. Now, whatever faculties were not occupied with the distress of this development, were busy working on a plan to get herself away safely. Opportunities seemed to present themselves easily- desperate, mocking opportunities that would be stupid to attempt with an experienced Fighter.
Then they arrived. Todd parked himself on the opposite side of the street and they both got off. He said, “Okay, who’s in there? I’m not interested in killing anyone or making things complicated, so…”
“It’s too late for that,” Norah muttered in a shaky voice, and went on, “No one’s there right now. There are fewer people wanting to use the EPT so it’s only open on the weekend. I’m just keeping an eye on things.”
“See?” He said, “It’s going to waste!”
Todd took hold of her arm and forced her towards the opposite building. They entered the dark room with the machine laid out and the two chairs sitting on the farther wall. Norah looked around, hoping someone would be there after all, but there was no one there.
“This shouldn’t take long to pack up,” Todd said, examining the machinery with some curiosity.
Norah turned to him, saying, “Todd, you really don’t want to do this.”
The other laughed suddenly, saying, “You’re not going to stop me, Christener, so don’t try.”
“But you don’t know how dangerous this machine is, or what risk you’re putting yourself in if you use it!”
The Fighter looked at her, now interested. But he didn’t say anything.
And just then they heard a motion behind them. Todd turned to the cause of the sound, a man who had crawled out of a corner, his knife in hand and ready. They both stared at the stranger a moment, quickly realizing that he had been a Zombie. But not anymore.
He looked up at them, hatred in his eyes but also weariness.
“Are you the Christener?” He was looking at Norah.
Not answering, Norah quickly went over to a table and looked through a notebook. She flipped through several pages with a collection of faces inside.
“I don’t care who I am,” the man said, understanding that she was looking for his identity.
“You had a family,” Norah answered without looking up.
“I just want to die in peace.”
“Go ahead and use the EPT,” Todd said, putting his weapon away, “That’s what it’s for.”
“It’s not for Zombies!”
“He’s not a Zombie.”
Norah looked at the newcomer, who had slowly sunk to the ground and was laying still, nearly dead. She slowly shut the notebook again with a heavy sigh, saying, “There’s nothing I can do for him. We can’t connect him up to the EPT. I can only find his name- he needs to know who he was.”
Todd looked from her to the man and then, stooping, carefully checked his pulse. He said, “He’s almost gone.”
Quickly, Norah looked through another notebook full of the same pictures of people. She had to force herself to look carefully, even though she was in a hurry. Suddenly she stopped, turned a couple of pages, looked at one of the photos, then the name and then, dropping the notebook, rushed to the man, gently turning him over so she could look at his face.
“Sean, your name is Sean,” she said, smiling when she saw that the man comprehended her. But he shook his head.
“I don’t care,” he said, “I wanted peace. It’s Christmas.”
Norah hesitated, slowly repeating his name, hoping that it would help somehow.
Why did he have to ask for the one thing that she couldn’t do?
Then, suddenly, the man died.
The Bleak December
Norah pushed the heavy door open a little- she didn’t care that it creaked loudly as it moved. She took a quick look around the room and went straight to the desk in the middle of the room. Her eyes went to a crack in the wall, through which she might see if anyone would come in, as she quickly searched through the desk. She looked through all the papers and pulled out a file. Her fingers searched quickly through the pages inside, which had obviously been looked over often, but that didn’t interest her.
A door nearby was slammed suddenly but Norah’s focus was still on searching through the papers. Finally, she found the paper she was looking for, with a list of names on it. That was what she wanted, and she knew what it was immediately. Without waiting another minute, she got up and left the room, not by the way she’d come but out into the open. It was hard winter by now, so she drew the collar of her coat up further.
Norah found herself in an alley made up of several similar structures to the one she’d just left. They were not buildings, sometimes they simply appeared to be boxes with doors. Some were homes, some were called offices, like the one she’d just left, which was connected to a tunnel that went underground and spread all over the city.
There were few people around, a couple of guards in the distance and an old motorcycle that had been set up by some dedicated mechanic to be propelled by its driver, who was seated on the ground, leaning up against it. He was a big man, with a gaze as level as the brim of his hat, and he seemed to be contemplating Norah.
She was impassive to his evident curiosity, she didn’t care what he thought, because if he bothered to find out what she’d gotten, there was nothing he could do against her.
Norah glanced briefly at the man, thinking to herself that he was probably a Fighter, and walked on toward the exit of the alley. Then several men appeared at the end of the row of structures, acting as though they’d been running and they were in the thick of an adrenaline that could drive them through burning flames and give them a temper to match it. Norah stopped short, recognizing at once what those men were- Zombies.
She took a step back. They were definitely Zombies. There was nothing she could do about them at the moment and she wondered, in the back of her mind past the thoughts of survival, if their names were on the list she’d just found.
Norah glanced toward the Fighter, who had risen as soon as the men appeared. She carefully moved towards him as he moved towards her, and then the Zombies came down on them, their shrieks frighteningly piercing in those surroundings.
The struggle lasted only a minute or two. The man dealt with them quickly, receiving injuries in return- but he seemed so impregnable to pain that the fight was almost unfair.
Norah watched from a distance of only a foot or two, fascination and need keeping her from moving any further back. She studied all the Zombies’ faces, or whatever was left to be recognized, and she yelled at the Fighter to stop when he came to the last Zombie, who had, during the whole time, fought less and moved slower, stooping more- even if the hate was still there, it was tired.
“Stop!” She yelled again, and the Fighter finally drew back, staring at her in confusion.
“He’s not a Zombie anymore,” she said, putting a hand on the Fighter’s arm, afraid he would attack again. The Fighter looked from the Zombie to her, laughing slightly, but only in a distracted way, still keeping an eye on the man because he was still clearly a threat.
“He is still a Zombie,” he answered.
“No, I can tell he’s coming back.”
Suddenly the man attacked, grabbing hold of the knife the Fighter held in the other hand, not caring that he took hold of the blade and cut deep into his own fingers. The Fighter quickly struck back, at the same time Norah screamed at him to stop.
He kicked the man back several paces, following it up with another blow that knocked the man to the ground, finally stopping him, and then the Fighter seemed satisfied. He did not turn his face from the man, but seemed willing to hear Norah speak.
“So,” he began before she could say anything, “Are you a Christener?”
The man sighed, obviously irritated by her answer. He muttered, “I can’t stand Christeners.”
“Why?” Norah was tired of the aversion- sometimes total dislike- that came when people found out what she was, “We don’t do any harm.”
“Are you going to make me spare him?” The Fighter asked.
“Yes, he’s going to die soon anyway.”
“So you will do harm,” he answered, “I can’t let him go, just because he’s going to die. From the looks of it-” he didn’t finish the sentence because the man suddenly leapt up again.
It happened so quickly, Norah didn’t realize the man was dead, his neck was broken, until he dropped to the ground. She stared in astonishment at the dead man, looking at the Fighter again. Then, without another word, she turned and went on down the alley.
“Where are you going?” The Fighter asked, looking over his victims quickly.
Norah glanced back at him. He’d gone back to his old motorcycle and was turning it around, evidently to follow her. She laughed, saying, “Please, don’t tell me you’re going to escort me somewhere! After what you just did, I don’t think I want your company.”
“It was self-defense, as a matter of fact,” he answered in a tone that could’ve, at some other time, been mistaken for joking, “My name is Todd, by the way. Are you Norah?”
She looked at him, clearly startled. She answered, “Yes, I am Norah.”
“You’re getting around, as a very good Christener. But that doesn’t really interest me,” Todd said, having now caught up with her and keeping pace on his motorcycle. He went on, “Like I said, I can’t stand Christeners. But I am interested in your other occupation.”
She looked at him again, now curious.
“I help out with the EPT,” she said, “Is that what you’re interested in? You struck me as being a very callous Fighter. Why would you be interested in making people happy?”
“I’m interested in being happy- that’s why I’m interested in the EPT,” he said, gradually going a little farther, so that he was in front of her, “And sense you’re here, you’re going to help me out a bit.”
He’d spoken in a rather dangerous way, which made Norah feel uncomfortable. She’d slowed her pace, almost imperceptibly, trying to figure out some way to get away from Todd. But he’d seemed to understand her thoughts and had cut off any possible retreat.
In all their actions they hadn’t done anything outright, either by running on her part or brute force on his part. They’d known what the other’s thoughts were without speaking. But now Todd changed that by suddenly pulling a knife out of his pocket and pointing it straight at her.