Seamkeepers, Chapter One
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Seamkeepers - Chapter One
Brynna Ellis was in school at the time of the first earthquake. It had started like any normal day—sitting in the back corner of math class, avoiding attention, and fiddling with the silver pendant around her neck. Her fingertips had begun to tingle, so she’d shifted around in her chair in hopes that it would pass.
It did not.
By the time second period came, Brynna had anxiously isolated herself in a quiet corridor of the school. Both her arms had begun to lose all feeling, and she knew if her foster parents had to take her to the emergency room, she would be in a world of trouble.
By third period, Brynna was shaky and pallid. People had noticed the pain written in her expression, but no one said anything to her. She folded her arms across her desk and leaned over, no longer concerned about what the teacher might have to say.
All at once, it felt like a large part of her very soul was stripped from her, and it left a horribly hollow, burning feeling in her chest.
Brynna nearly bit her tongue off in her desperate attempt to refrain from screaming. Her nails dug into the soft, wooden surface of her desk, engraving marks alongside all the “so and so was here” scribbles in the tabletop. Unfortunately, if anyone had plans to ask Brynna if she was alright, they were overshadowed by the way the ceiling tiles suddenly shook, raining years of dust onto the high schoolers’ heads.
Several people screamed as the lights flickered out and the classroom rattled, drowning out the teacher’s pleas for everyone to stay calm. For a moment, the room went dark, and then the buzz of the backup generator hummed through the school. Red lights swept through the halls as the emergency system sang, beckoning the students to evacuate in an orderly fashion.
Brynna gasped for air, sputtering as she struggled to stand. Her classmates were filing out the door, but she could hardly gather her bearings.
“You can’t make me wait for you!” Brynna’s teacher, Ms. Eversteen gripped at her jacket. Through her blurry vision, Brynna could tell that the middle-aged woman was on the verge of a panic attack.
“I’m sorry,” Brynna coughed, shuddering with pain. Whatever was happening to her had picked a fine time to show up, what with the way the school continued to judder. The chalkboard fell off the wall, causing Ms. Eversteen to nearly jump out of her skin.
With great strain, Brynna managed to get out of her seat and limp through the school. Metal lockers were toppled over in the hallways. Ceiling tiles and scattered belongings riddled the filthy floors.
People chattered nervously amongst themselves as they hurried through the corridors, pushing past Brynna as she stumbled around. Her head was ringing.
When she finally reached the exit, the late morning light burned her eyes. Numerous emergency vehicles were parked at the base of the high school’s steps. Several students and some teachers were on the ground as paramedics tended to their wounds. A few people were in hysterics as they coughed for fresh air.
Brynna leaned against one of the pillars outside the brick entrance. She trembled as she watched the student body accumulate on the pavement. Every single radio that the emergency workers had were all howling at the same time, whistling with frequencies and listing off dozens of dispatches.
As the panic increased, her hazel eyes drifted upward toward the small downtown skyline, only to be met with clouds of smoke. Brynna’s heart skipped a beat as someone grabbed her arm and stole her attention.
“Are you hurt?” It was a paramedic. Quietly, she shook her head, and the worker immediately hurried to the next closest person.
Someone made an announcement through a loudspeaker—probably instructions or some sort of information—but Brynna could no longer stay put. The aching sensation was beginning to overpower her and she felt like she was burning alive. Panting madly, she staggered down the steps and through the crowd. Someone shouted at her, but she ignored them. Every raised voice was becoming white noise, turning into one loud ring in her ears.
She could feel nothing but her own heartbeat as she began to run. At least, she thought she was running—it was more like a desperate hobble away from the crowds.
The longer the pain lasted, the less Brynna noticed her surroundings. She didn’t notice the cars sputtering to stops alongside the road, nor did she notice the rumbling that picked up again, pulsing through the earth. She didn’t notice the screaming as the power died out or the burning smell that filled her nose.
She blinked softly, breathing irregularly as she approached the outskirts of the city where the road sloped upward. Clutching weakly at the unscathed grass, she practically dragged herself to the top of the hill. Her head continued to pound and her heart lurched wildly. Everything was hot and cold and bright and dark and frightening. No longer able to fight the pain, Brynna closed her eyes and laid in the grass’s cool embrace.
In the time Brynna was unconscious, frightening occurrences continued to plague Renson. The power was completely out—phone lines were down, batteries were drained, and solar panels were strangely fractured. Unaware of the turmoil surrounding her, Brynna began to fall into a deep state of dreaming about her predicament.
Through her long years of foster home after foster home, Brynna had come to realize that attachments were a luxury she couldn’t afford. Her one exception to this rule was the silver, crescent-shaped pendant she’d had for as long as she could remember. As much as she clung to the necklace, it served as a constant reminder of how she had come to be alone.
The memory went something like this:
“I want you to keep this,” the young, featureless blur of Brynna’s mother said hurriedly. As she spoke, she pressed the small, crescent-shaped pendant into Brynna’s palm.
“Never lose it,” her mother continued. “When you lose it, you lose me.”
At this, her mother had kissed Brynna on the forehead, and then she had gone away.
As night swallowed the evening, Brynna forced herself to wake up.
There was something inexplicably serene about the distance between the galaxy-painted atmosphere and the daunting skyline of Renson. Above the grassy hillsides, darkness engulfed the edifices that jutted out of the soil. On the peak of the steep hill, all she had to see by was starlight. Other than unkempt blades of itchy grass, there was nothing to stop the chilling wind that draped itself over the land. The breeze that swept over the valley brought an eerie silence, as though the world had exhausted itself with fear.
Recounting what had happened, Brynna felt her heart plummet. The alarming lack of city lights answered her question—there was no way she had dreamt the nightmares that had taken place. Trying to slow her ragged breaths, she headed back into town.
As she neared the downtown district, the darkened streets grew unnervingly bleak. It wasn’t long before she realized she had been following a growing din through the streets, like a bee to a hive. The closer she came to the city square, the louder the volume of people speaking grew.
Now, there was an orange glow at the end of the road. As she approached, she was pleasantly surprised to find that someone had constructed a sizeable bonfire in the middle of the town park. In the square, people had congregated in droves, hoping to find answers from the neighbors they had so often overlooked.
Brynna hung around the outskirts, scanning the dimly lit areas for any traces of food in the pillaged shops.
It only grew colder as the late October night dragged on. Eventually, pleasant laughter began to drift upwards with the smoke, and lighthearted conversations planted a bit of peace in the hearts of the townspeople.
Anyone with a topic about the strange situation hung back among the trees. As if suspicious of anyone else, they mumbled quietly and cast uneasy glances amongst themselves. Fear was the only subject they had to offer, and fear wasn’t welcome at the fire.
As the night wore on, the chatter began to die down and the unease grew stronger. People were starting to lose whatever fragile fragments of hope they had left, and tension was hanging thickly over every head.
All at once, everyone, including Brynna, was caught off guard as a man in his late forties rushed up to the bonfire. “It’s out!” he shouted, gasping for air.
“What?” People began panicking, looking around at each other for an analysis.
“I took a group of people over to Lawrence, looking for answers. People are dead,” he wheezed. “Entire buildings fell this morning.”
“People are dead?” someone shrieked, raising horrified gasps from the crowd.
“I came back as fast as I could.” The man was now bent over in agony, clutching at his chest for air. “I ran into several others from different cities. They’re having the same problem, and no one knows what’s happening.
“They’ve been like this since this morning, whereas the outage hit us in the early afternoon. I don’t know how to explain—” At this, he clasped a hand over his heart and groaned in anguish. Before he could go on, he collapsed.
“What’s wrong?” People neared him as he fell to his knees. “Is there a doctor?”
Someone rushed forward to check his pulse. Finding none, they frantically began to perform CPR. A nerve-racking minute went by, and then the young person stepped back. “He’s dead.”
People were swift to join the fearful chorus. With no idea of what had become of their town, the country, or even the world, the panicking crowd erupted into shoving and crying, tripping and falling, and blubbering and screaming. It grew worse when someone tumbled over from a violent push and stumbled into the raging bonfire.
“STOP!” a loud voice shouted above all the mess. The owner of the shout planted his feet firmly on the ground and pulled back the person who had fallen. He tore the flaming jacket from the victim and tossed it into the fire. Sparks billowed upward, engulfing the fabric.
Frazzled, the young man who had fallen disappeared into the crowd without as much as a “thank you.” He bumped into Brynna as he fled.
Brynna’s eyes narrowed as she looked back to where the tall stranger stood. He adjusted his fingerless gloves before waving his hands in the air.
“You’re going to end up like the other cities if this continues!” he shouted, trying to grab the crowd’s attention.
“How do you know?” someone replied.
Hesitating, the stranger searched for an answer. “I’ve seen it happen,” he replied quietly.
Before anyone could press him for answers, another uproar broke out and drowned out anything else he could say. Thoughtfully, the stranger squinted as he scrutinized the few who continued to listen. Among those few stood Brynna, mesmerized by the whole scene.
“I know what needs to be done.” He shoved his hand through his earthy-brown hair. Although his voice wavered as people stopped listening, he managed to continue. “For now, it’s not good to panic.”
“The end is here! It’s every man for himself!” someone shouted at him before bolting into the upset crowd.
Now, amidst the throngs of frantic people, Brynna was the only one left to listen.
The stranger studied her large, hazel eyes and was immediately lost in their quizzical stare. She had light freckles highlighting her high cheekbones—cheekbones that accented smooth, red lips. Her tied-back hair was dark in contrast to her ivory skin. She looked nothing like the other faces he had seen that day, and there was something about her that caused him to freeze in place.
Clearing his throat, the young man stepped toward her and lowered his voice so only she could hear. “If we play this right, we can get some of them to calm down.”
He was rather close now, and he faltered. While there was something strikingly fierce about this girl, he didn’t want to scare her away like the others. He only wanted to help, and she was the first person who seemed ready to listen.
“My name is Frederick Westro,” he said, softening his posture to maintain a look of trustworthiness. “You can call me Freddie.”
Brynna stammered for a moment, unsure as to why she’d been singled out. She took a step back, and then her heart rate accelerated. As quickly as she could, she darted away and buried herself in the crowd.
“Hey!” Freddie shouted. Although she was gone, he couldn’t help but reach for her. Shaking his head, the nineteen-year-old barreled his way through the frantic people. He ran a short distance into the darkness of the night before realizing it was useless to chase after the girl.
He needed to find his own group, and soon. The chaos would only grow by leaps and bounds, and they had yet to find what they needed.
No one followed me, was the first thing Brynna thought after breaking away from the discord in the city. For some reason, this frightful event had seemed like a miracle to her. Despite the disorder, Brynna found her first bit of peace in knowing she controlled her own life, now.
In the chilly atmosphere on the hilltop, there wasn’t a soul to find her. The wind sifted through the grass she was standing in, softly beckoning nature to resume its silent reign. Under the blue light of the broad moon, Brynna took a seat and watched with wide eyes as fires slowly lit up the once-electric town below. They weren’t the friendly, cozy kinds; they were the kinds that spread and destroyed. The reality of what had overcome Renson slowly began to distort her personal victory.
While she was grateful to have finally seized control of her life, her current predicament began to trouble her. As the chilling wind drank away the rosy feeling, Brynna realized she had no idea where to find refuge. If she wanted to sleep peacefully through the mayhem, she knew she had two options: steal or sneak back into her former residence to pack a backpack.
Does it count as stealing if society is in shambles?
Her conscience said “yes,” but her shivers said “no.”
I’ll wait it out. She grimaced, trying to come to an agreement with herself. Folding her arms and propping them on her knees, Brynna stared across the landscape and listened to the madness of the world below.
With a slowly dripping nose, Brynna sniffled, curled up, and buried herself in the dead grass. If she had to venture back into the city, she could tolerate waiting for the dreadful screaming to go away.
As the horizon burned pink with the first rays of the sun, Brynna awoke with a cough. Her throat was sore and she felt numb with cold, but the promise of sunlight rejuvenated her.
All she could see were pillars of smoke billowing between almost every building. How the smell alone hadn’t woken her, she didn’t know. Wondering what she might find, she pulled her hair back and began trekking down the hill.
The untouched parts of the city were brimming with arguing citizens. As people started to fight over food and things they had looted, recently unemployed shopkeepers helplessly stood idle while others tried to defend their merchandise with whatever they had on hand.
Keeping a low profile, Brynna hurried onward and dared to turn onto a street filled with smoke. Shop doors had been broken open, and their merchandise flooded into the road like décor. Piles of furniture cluttered the sidewalks. Shredded advertisements were sprinkled like confetti. Signs had been torn down like fallen banners. Brynna knew the earthquakes were only partially to blame for the wreckage.
She cut through an alleyway to the next street, where her eyes settled on a tipped-over vending machine. To her relief, the door had already been pried open; however, this meant most of its contents were missing, aside from a few crumpled bottles. Parched, Brynna heaved against the machine and found a crinkled bottle of water stuffed far in the back. Her arm was just small enough to reach through the gap and retrieve the prize.
Suddenly, a group of shouting people came running around the bend. Startled, Brynna pressed herself against a dumpster to hide. The group blew past her, violently smashing store windows with makeshift weaponry.
Watching with both apprehension and curiosity, Brynna cowered to her knees and wondered what their intentions could be. They didn’t seem like the type to be robbing stores of their abandoned granola bars—they looked more like lawyers than looters.
I’ll be sure not to go crazy and start an armed gang of accountants, she smirked, attempting to keep calm. Her train of thought moved along quickly, pondering over why no one was trying to stop the crime. Had the power outages caused the authorities to give up on order? At the very least, shouldn’t the government have responded with reinforcements?
Unless, of course, the government was also out of luck, as well as everywhere else in the world. That was a disheartening idea.
Before long, the raiders left the street. Their shouts lingered in the distance as they took on another road, and Brynna peered around the corner. In case someone else came along, she hurried in the opposite direction as before and ducked into a building.
As she slipped through the cherry wood doors, she stopped to stare at the colorful mess. It had been ransacked, but there were still several racks of clothing neatly hung along the back walls. At some point (some point being two days ago), this had been a well-established business of fine apparel, far too expensive for a little girl to touch. The place smelled strongly of perfume, like someone had dipped each piece of fabric into an ocean of rose petals. As her eyes danced around the room, Brynna could imagine a stingy old woman leaning across the counter and telling her to leave—unless, of course, she had her parents’ credit card.
Since she was in the neighborhood, Brynna decided to look for a jacket. A shiver of guilt flew through her. She tried to combat it with the excuse that everyone was doing it, so it was fine. Besides, if practical clothing grew scarce, she didn’t want to be one of the people wearing a rhinestone-slathered vest and velveted high heels.
Brynna was just about to try on a gray jacket when a male voice startled her.
“Stealing is wrong, you know,” it echoed against the tile floor.
She whirled around and tripped, colliding with a metal clothing rack. Hangers clattered to the floor.
It was the stranger from the bonfire. What was his name… Derick?
As sweat beaded on her forehead, she frowned distastefully. “You can’t just sneak up on someone.”
“The dressing rooms still work,” he suggested, only to be met with a cold look. Sheepishly, he recounted why he’d followed her into the shop after noticing her running through the streets. “Sorry to catch you like this”—he stuffed his hands in his pockets—“I just wanted to apologize for last night.”
Although her complexion twisted in confusion, Brynna ignored him and put on the jacket. “Is it really stealing? I mean... it is, but—” His look hushed her.
“Trust me; I know what stealing is.” He stifled a yawn. “You’re not exactly… Robin Hood.”
Navigating around the shelf that separated them, he faced her and crossed his arms. “But, y’know. Desperate times, right? I don’t think the cash register would’ve worked anyway, and I’d rather see you wearing that than seeing it in someone’s fireplace.”
Although she was nervous, Brynna decided to play it cool and turn her back as she searched through the other things the abandoned store had to offer. She snatched up a backpack and scrutinized the buckles as though they were precious silver.
Freddie walked the short distance over to the men’s section. Tugging at the sleeves of the winter coats, he acted like he had better things to do than pretending he hadn’t followed her into the store just to apologize. “That’s a good backpack for…uh… stashing stuff,” he offered awkwardly.
“What can I say?” She shrugged before breaking the tags off the backpack. “I have great taste.”
“Hey,” he caught her attention, “what do you think about vests?” He spread his arms and directed her attention to the dark red vest in his hands.
“They’re impractical”—she tilted her head—“unless you only get cold on your torso.”
“What if I want a winter tan?” Dimples formed in his cheeks as he smiled for the first time she’d seen. He stuffed his arms into the non-sleeves and bit his cheek as the red color flattened against the light blue sweater he was wearing. If he must, he decided he would wear this vest to his grave.
Scowling, Brynna kept her guard up and turned her back on him again. Once he couldn’t see her face, she smiled. As much as she didn’t want to admit it, it was nice to have a lighthearted conversation with someone.
“Seriously, though; you want a jacket that’s light, comfortable, warm, and has lots of pockets,” he said. His amiable voice grew muffled as he buried his face in a clothing rack to smell some fabric. He nearly choked on the heavy scent of roses.
“For the apocalypse, I guess.” Brynna fixed her new sleeves.
“This isn’t the apocalypse,” he said flatly.
She made her way over to him. “How would you know?”
“This ain’t my first rodeo.” He winked before pulling a cowboy hat off the shelf and tossing it in her direction. The leather hat spun a couple of times before landing with a soft thud on the checkered floor.
Brynna groaned. “Listen, Francis. If you’re so smart, what do you want from me?”
“First, it’s Freddie. Second, you’re not being fair. If you hadn’t run for the hills the second I asked for your help, maybe I would’ve told you more.” Freddie crossed his arms and leaned against the row of jackets. He didn’t look as upset as he sounded, but she was still apprehensive.
She sank back. “How’d you know that’s where I went?”
“It’s an expression and a lucky guess.” He shrugged. “Look, I don’t know how I found you again, but maybe there’s a reason. Maybe you listened to me at the bonfire because you needed help.”
“Or because you were causing a scene,” Brynna muttered under her breath.
Freddie ignored her comment and grew quiet. “I’m just trying to”—he cut himself off, unable to justify any excuses he could think of—“I’m sorry your life has been turned upside-down.”
“It’s okay,” she mumbled, “but you don’t know anything about me. Maybe I wanted my life to be this way.” She went back to sorting through the clothing racks.
Freddie raised an eyebrow, feeling like he’d been too brash. “Why would you want that? Isn’t it lonely?”
Meeting his gaze, she sighed. “I’ve been alone a lot longer than this week,” she huffed, almost as if to mock her own life story. “I was abandoned.”
A bit surprised, he remained silent, eyes wide as they studied her.
Unsure of his motives, she looked at him. “Why did you single me out?”
“I thought”—Freddie mulled over his words—“I thought it’d be nice to find someone looking for just a sliver of sanity to focus on. Someone willing to search for answers; someone who won’t back down when times are hard.”
Brynna almost laughed. “And you thought I was that person,” she finished his original idea.
He reached to the back of his neck. “It never hurts to ask.”
“Yeah,” she exhaled. “What, exactly, is it you’re searching for? Answers to what?”
Diverting his attention toward the open doors, Freddie took a step back. “Hold on; that was an invitation to team up; not form a therapy group.”
Following him, Brynna narrowed her hazel eyes. “As far as I know, you don’t get to ask me questions and then bail when I ask one. You’re not being fair.”
He gazed at her with an uncertain smile, and then he laughed. “Point taken.”
They stared at each other intently, waiting for the other to break.
“Anyway, I’m not sure I’d be much help,” Brynna said, heading toward the door. “It’s hard to trust someone who won’t tell you what they want.”
“Wait!” Freddie jogged after her. “I don’t even know your name.”
She gave him a smile as if to tell him he was strange. “It’s Brynna,” she replied.
“Brynna,” he rolled the name slowly over his tongue. “I know you don’t know anything about me, but I promise I wouldn’t have bothered you if it wasn’t important,” he spoke quickly, as though she might disappear. “I’m sure you can take care of yourself, but there’s something”—he sought for the word—“bigger going on. Something I can’t explain right here.”
Wary, she stared back at him. For some reason, her heart was racing in an unfamiliar pattern. She wanted to listen to him. She wanted to tell him to get lost. She wanted to know more about what he meant. She had questions; he had answers.
They reached the end of the street, and she turned to him. “I don’t know, Freddie. With the power out and the earthquakes happening, everyone is acting crazy right now, and I’m not sure you aren’t, either. I don’t know what I could possibly have to do with what you’re talking about, but you’re right. I am capable of taking care of myself, and that’s just what I’m going to do.”
His mouth formed the word “oh,” and he busied himself with adjusting his new vest. It made sense that she didn’t want to go with him—a mere stranger in a terror-stricken world. Still, he couldn’t shake the feeling he had about her.
“Okay,” he pressed his lips into a firm line, unsure of what to do. Were they supposed to shake hands?
He got his answer when she shifted awkwardly and bounced on her heels before walking away. Brynna turned the corner without looking back, and then she was gone.
Freddie shoved his hands into his pockets.
With a heavy sigh, he went on his way and continued in the direction that Brynna had not. Even if all he had was a hunch to follow, he needed to figure out how to talk to her again.
. . . . . . .
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