(Kelly was written by Kelly Blanchard, and Jacob Settlemyre wrote Rhea–a protagonist in his story.)
The auburn-haired girl frantically shoved her various items in cabinets around her shack. Dust and dirt flew into her face causing her to scrunch her nose and sneeze. “I’m tired of all of this mess,” she thought to herself. Luke, her fiancé, had left a mess after their last argument leaving Rhea annoyed and stressed. Her “house” guest would arrive soon, and she wanted to make the shack look perfect unlike its usual clutter.
She placed a couple rusted cups on the old wooden table. The legs were warped, and it wobbled if you pressed on it too hard, but it was all they could afford right now. She laid a tray with a pitcher of well water on the table. Almost stale bread framed the tray. Her arms crossed over her chest and her brows furrowed as she glanced the room over. It is missing something she sighed as she walked off towards the back room.
The setting sun reflected oranges and blues off of her clouded mirror. An image faded in and out before she waved a hand and it set back to her dirt covered face. The reflection showed warped glasses and her hair matted. After another wave of her hand her glasses were a little straighter and her hair seemed to be brushed out even though its usual static was still noticeable. Glancing in the mirror one last time it showed the sun setting over the mountain behind her.
Approaching the house, Kelly paused to glance over her shoulder at the sunset. It was her favorite part of day. However, she tore her gaze from it to walk up to the house and knocked on the front door. There she waited.
Rhea was lighting the candles as she heard a knock on the door. Excited she ran over and swung the door open. “Hi! You must be Kelly. I’ve heard a lot about you. Please come in and excuse the mess.” She gestured for Kelly to come in.
“Not a problem. Thank you for having me.” Kelly smiled as she followed Rhea inside. The house was a little untidy, but it proved to be well-lived in, so Kelly ignored it and focused on her hostess. “So, you must be Rhea. Thanks for agreeing to this meeting. So where exactly are we?”
Rhea noticed Kelly glancing around and she felt her face heat up a bit. “Sorry for the mess. Luke and I can create a bit of a mess when we argue sometimes.” She chuckled thinking back to his face from the night before. “It is my pleasure! We are on New Earth. It’s a bit of a disaster.” Motioning to the sky outside and its strange hue.
“New Earth?” Kelly whipped her head around to look at Rhea with furrowed brows. “What happened to old Earth then?”
Rhea’s eyebrows furrowed as she glanced at the ground she leaned against the table almost knocking everything over. “Well I don’t know to much since it happened so long ago. Stories talk about a world war and something about fallout. The wealthy and important people were allowed in these domes. Any of the “lesser” people had to sneak in.” She sighed and rubbed her face a bit. “Pretty much no one could get along because of depleting resources so…we destroyed the main resource. They really didn’t think it out.” She chuckled
“Are we still on the original Earth planet, or is this an altogether different world?” Kelly knitted her brows but then felt the need to explain, “I’m sorry, I’m from a different realm altogether, so all of this is unfamiliar to me. The most I know of Earth is the 21st century, so you can imagine my confusion.” She cast Rhea a smile but the motioned to a chair. “May I sit?”
Rhea palmed her forehead “I am sorry! I forgot you weren’t from my time. This is the original planet, but really far ahead in your future. I believe this is 3015? We don’t really keep track anymore. Almost everything was wiped out, or so most people think, unless they made it into one of fifteen cities.” The familiar heat flooded her face again embarrassed by her forgetfulness. “Oh of course! How rude of me. Would you like some water or bread?”
“Water would be nice. Thank you.” Kelly gave her a warm smile as she took a seat and glanced around. She had a lot she wanted to ask, but wanted to make the conversation flow naturally. “So what are these fifteen cities you mentioned? And why did people survive there but not elsewhere?”
“Great! I hope you don’t mind it is well water. It is safe to drink, but has a bit of an earthy taste.” She grabbed the nicest cup and began to pour the water. Rhea smiled back as she passed it across the table. “Ah yes the cities. The government had built multiple cities that had some sort of dome built around them. It was supposed to keep the fallout away from the area. They have some filtration system built into it which keeps the air clean, but that is about it.” Rhea sat back in the other chair and crossed her legs. ” Anyone or anything that didn’t make it into the cities were killed. That is what everyone is told, but recently I was approached as was my fiance to go on a team out of the city. No one has seen the outside world in hundreds of years.” Her gaze drifted to the window and the night sky.
Her hand motioned to the window. “All of that is an illusion put up by the leaders to keep the people happy. Most people don’t know it’s not real. I didn’t until last week. Now all I can think about is what is on the other side.”
“Your fiancé…is that Luke you mentioned before?” Kelly raised her brows then sipped on the drink of water. It was quite refreshing, so she smiled. “Tell me about him. How did you two meet?”
Rhea walked over to the cabinet behind Kelly and grabbed a broken picture frame showing his tall lanky frame and short black hair carrying her on his back. She smiled as she passed it to her guest. “Yes oddly enough.” She chuckled. “Luke and I grew up next to each other. I couldn’t stand him at the time. Every time I would pass by his house he’d pick on me. I used to chase him and try to beat him up, but he was bigger than me.” She walked back to her chair and rested on her arms. “One day after training a few kids stole my gears and pushed me into a mud puddle. He was so mad he chased them down and got my gears back for me. We’ve been friends since. We’ve gotten into a lot of trouble together over the years” she couldn’t count how many times the militia had chased them through the streets.
Kelly took the picture and smiled fondly. “You two make a cute couple.” She handed the picture back to Rhea. “So, what exactly is it that you two do? Do you have a job if sorts?”
Rhea’s face lit up at the compliment. “Thanks! He usually disagrees in an attempt to annoy me.” Rhea dusted the picture off before sitting it down on the cabinet. “Luke usually works in the farming district and I work at the governor’s house. I’m one of the maids.” Rhea slouched as she thought about work.
“And you don’t like that.” Kelly could tell by her body language.
“Not really. You don’t earn many gears doing this kind of work and it’s never enough. The governor’s son is really nice though. He’s the one that suggested Luke and I go on the expedition.”
“The expedition to go outside the city?” Kelly scooted to the edge of her seat, set her elbows on her knees and clasped her hands together as she observed Rhea. “And this was when you discovered not all is what it seemed? What happened?
“Rhea got up and closed the windows after making sure no one could hear them talking. “Sorry, I have to be careful when talking about this. They don’t want everyone to panic.” She returned to her seat and leaned in. Her voice was barely above a whisper. ” About a week ago Luke and I were called to the governor’s office after dark. We were a little worried since we have curfew and are not supposed to be out then without permission. When we arrived the governor closed all of the windows and locked the door. He led us down a hallway and into a small room. There were five others who were called in.” Rhea sat up as her excitement grew. “The lights were flipped off and pictures were shown of old earth. No one has seen these for centuries. He said that our resources are depleting here and that it might be possible to live outside again. We were asked if we would be willing to join an exploration team and learn about the outside world. Apparently we are special or something like that?”
Kelly nodded. “Go on.”
“He left everyone alone to discuss and process. We didn’t know what he meant by special and we still don’t. Anyway, we ended up talking for several hours before deciding it would be a good opportunity to get out of here. It could be the beginning of a new life. We realized that we were all lower class which some, Luke, took as meaning we were replaceable, but we have soldiers with us. I think it is safe, but I am kind of scared. It’s been so long since anyone has ventured out and no one knows what is out there. Would the animals or plants be the same? Is there still oxygen? What about other peoples!?
Rhea realized she was standing and her chair had been knocked to the floor. “Sorry I got a little carried away.”
Kelly frowned as she tried to understand. “Have you all left yet? Or no?” She was under the impression the expedition had already happened, but she could have misunderstood that.
Rhea sat back down and looked at her hands. “Not yet. Part of the group left yesterday. The rest of us will leave in three days. Sorry for the confusion.”
“Ah, that’s okay. I’m unfamiliar with everything, so it takes some getting used to.” Kelly offered Rhea a warm smile as she sat back in her chair. “So what do you hope it’s like out there?”
“It’s okay, I am a bit scatter brained sometimes.” Rhea smiled in return and then looked at the window. The raggedy shutters allowed a little bit of moon light in. “I hope we discover new and old creatures. I can see big rolling hills carpeted with the greenest and softest grasses. Trees so high you can touch the clouds and water so clear you can’t tell if you’re looking at the sky or a reflection. Maybe we will discover ancient survivors or even new people? I’ve always wanted to see a real horse and play with a dog.” Rhea’s face lit up as she leaned really close to Kelly. “Have you ever ridden a horse or went swimming? What is it like to pet a dog?”
A wide smile spread across Kelly’s lips, and she bobbed her head. “Yes–to all three of those. I have a dog, and she’s an absolute joy. As for horses…” Kelly thought back. “I’ve ridden a few. They are majestic and powerful but gentle creatures. As for swimming–not my best skill, but I do love the water.” She became lost briefly in her own thoughts but then snapped back to this reality as she realized Rhea had never experienced any of what she had. Kelly offered her another smile. “I hope you get to experience all those wonderful things as well, and may it be better than you expect.”
Kelly suspected there were survivors on the outside and that they wouldn’t take kindly to strangers, but she kept this to herself as she asked another question. “So, what do you fear it would be like out there?”
Rhea’s smile broadened at hearing this. She began to think back to the pictures she had seen not that long ago. “That is so cool! I really want a dog. I think I saw a shepherd? Anyway it was beautiful! I am kind of afraid of swimming since I’ve never had a chance, but i really want to try.” Rhea thought about what it must have been like in the past to grow up with all of these things lost to her modern day people. “I really hope so to” she smiled.
Rhea put her chin in her hand. “I’m afraid that the sky is going to be hazy and the landscape be barren. Maybe the animals will be really big and dangerous? Do you have anything like that where you’re from?” Her brows furrowed as she thought about the question. “Maybe the people will be mutated or there won’t be anyone left? What if I can’t help my people or more importantly Luke?”
Kelly sucked in a deep breath but then shrugged. “I don’t know what it’s like here or what it will be like out there for you, but…all I can say is stay close to your people, but be careful who you trust. Your world is about to get turned upside down, and what you thought was reality but be completely untrue.” She locked eyes with Rhea. “I don’t know that for certain, but would you be ready for that?”
Rhea sighed and folded her arms. “I guess it’ll be a great mystery and could be my one and only. You’re right though. I believe one of your people’s phrases are keep your friends close and your enemies closer? I feel like I’m alone on this adventure, but things will have to be okay one way or another. It’s just a lot to process.” She glanced at Kelly before looking at the floor. She shuffled her feet uncomfortably. “I don’t think there is a way to really be ready. You just have to kinda believe it’ll be okay and keep going. Don’t you think?”
“I wish you could meet Luke” She smiled. “He’s all excited, but he doesn’t really care about helping the “bigger” people.”
Kelly smiled. “Always prepare for the worst but hope for the best. Expect the unexpected so you won’t be caught off guard.” Then she listened to what Rhea said about Luke, and she nodded. “It would have been nice to meet him, but I’m glad you and I got to talk. You’re quite interesting yourself–in case you didn’t know that.” Kelly smiled as she nodded at Rhea.
But then Kelly glanced at her watch and sighed. “It’s time for me to leave.” She rose to her feet. “Thank you again for having me. I’m thrilled to have met you, and I hope you the best on this expedition. Stay close to Luke though. I wouldn’t trust anyone else.” With that, she moved toward the door and glanced over her shoulder back at Rhea. “Great meeting you! I hope it’s as beautiful out there as you can imagine.”
Rhea stood up and followed her to the door. “Thanks for the advice. I never thought of myself that way, but I guess you’re right” she chuckled. “Thanks for stopping by and it was great meeting you! Stay safe out there!” Rhea waved as she saw her guest walking down the street.
Note: Jacob is a budding writer. Rhea is a protagonist in his post-apocalyptic story, ‘The Survivor’s Sacrifice’, which he continues to work on. In the meanwhile, you can find him on Facebook:
Facebook: Jacob Settlemyre