Anywhere But Here

By Rey Harris

I – Attention to Detail

Snow – always falling upon this wasteland of things that once were, but would never be again. The sky stays a consistent gray throughout the day until the pitch black nightfall swallows it whole. Sometimes one can spot the sky in a swirl of hues – red and orange mixed with the gray, or silver and white mixed with the black, giving hope that somewhere out there a sun and a moon still exist. In reality, these colors just blend together to make the color of hopelessness and the presence of this nuclear winter never fails to disappoint.

The city of New Haven now lies in ruins. The lush forests that once surrounded and protected the city are now crowded with dead trees, branches outstretched like claws of monsters, and the vibrant wildlife that once roamed this land and beyond have become ravenous creatures or carrion for carnivores.

While everything else has been destroyed or mutated, the New Haven Research Facility still stands, and within it rests a man, casually sipping from a tall glass of red wine and persistently considering the idea of killing himself. The only things keeping him alive are the people down under; he watches them upon a large setup of television screens linked to over seventy security cameras throughout Eden. Reminiscent of Zeus looking down below from Mount Olympus, he observes, watching as they await his return after twelve long years.

II – Autumn, Come Down

“Mademoiselle Autumn….. AUTUMN!” Madame Massara was quickly losing her patience. If there was one thing she couldn’t tolerate in her students, it was apathy and carelessness.

Daydreaming, as usual, Autumn Hunter quickly came back down to reality. “Umm… Je ne sais pas, Madame. What was the question again?” To this, the small classroom of fifth graders erupted in laughter. It was never her intention to be funny but of course this wasn’t the first time a thing like this has happened.

“This will be the last time you drift off in my class mademoiselle. Be sure to stay after so we can have a talk about the importance of your education.” Autumn turned bright red, crossed her arms on her desk and laid her head down wishing she could disappear.

“D’accord!,” Massara said, turning around to write something on the board. The class took advantage of the moment to throw paper bombs, snow and planes in every direction, quickly stopping as she turned back around, squinting suspiciously at each of the twenty-eight students.

She had scrawled ‘personne d’importance’ across the board in large letters. “You all have a project due two weeks from today. I want each of you to find someone important to l’histoire of Eden. You will each be required to give a presentation to the class-,” the classroom erupted in groans of disgust. “Tais-toi! I do not want to hear it! You all need to begin taking your educations seriously. The fate of mankind depends on each and every one of you. And for many of you this project will determine if you go onto the next grade.

“So each of you should begin to think about who has played a big part in why we are all here. I expect each of you to conduct an interview with at least three adults and share your experiences and all that you have learned to the class on the day of votre presentation.”

The end of class bell began to ring much to the appreciation of Massara’s students; everyone except for Autumn, who sat still as everyone else begin to file out of the classroom. It wasn’t until the class had left that Massara realized the mess of paper projectiles left scattered about for her to clean up.

III – Trial and Error

It didn’t take long for Brody’s eyes to adjust to the landscape revealed by the steel shutters opening. While the glass doors and windows protected by the shutters were created to minimize the rays of bright sunlight, this quality was quite useless now. He hasn’t seen the sun for over twelve years now, since before the bombs fell.

The landscape had not changed since a week ago when he last stepped foot outside the laboratory. He had been doing this every week – traveling out into the wasteland, covered head to toe in a hazmat suit, armed with an AR-15 assault rifle. He would roam the lands, each time exploring a bit further, taking notes on the rapidly changing environment. He would extract soil and water samples to test the amount of radiation in the environment, driven by the hope that one day New Haven and whatever was left beyond it could one day be inhabited again by life.

Today was like any other – he brought back the samples, spent countless hours testing them only to be disappointed by the unaltered results. He screamed, cursing God, war and anything else he could think to blame before collapsing to the floor in a fit of tears. And just like any other day, he would eventually come to, pour himself a glass of wine and contemplate existence.

His gut feeling as a scientist told him this was hopeless. Yes, he made a promise to the people of Eden that he would be back, but who was he kidding? There was no going back to the life those old enough to remember once lived. Would they even notice if he decided to end his life?

IV – Faux Show

Massara had been a teacher, and remained so, long before the vault doors marking the entrance to Eden had been closed by Brody over twelve long years ago. Due to the shortage of teachers fortunate enough to survive and make refuge in Eden, Massara was forced not only teach her usual subject of French, but also History and the occasional English class to children of all ages. Equipped with ruthless optimism, she couldn’t help but feel her role was far beyond just educating these children. Humanity had to rebuild, and it was up to her to see to it that the next generation did it efficiently.

It turns out that Autumn was on the brink of failing her ‘classe d’histoire’, as Madame Massara put it. “You are a twiddler, a dreamer, a silly heart. And frankly, I do not think you take a thing in your life or career as a student seriously!” Her last chance to pass was the ‘personne d’importance’ presentation.

It was in that moment that Autumn wished she could be anywhere but here, even nowhere. She couldn’t help but feel a bit ashamed, but this quickly subsided with the thought of being forced to learn History from Massara again. She had to take action.

Autumn kept a small notebook everywhere she went that she used to doodle and write down her thoughts and ideas. The cover of the notebook was an old black and white photo of a gorgeous girl with big glasses, dressed in an elegant dress. She found out it was a picture of an old actress named Audrey Hepburn, from the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Much of what was inside were things she would rather not share with others. There were all sorts of short stories, poems, drawings and personal writings full of angst and misunderstanding. But she was always writing – it helped her vent, analyze and sometimes understand things and come to conclusions. Today, it helped her realize that she should do her History project on Brody.

Autumn always knew deep down that the rumors about Brody, who lived above ground within the ruins of New Haven, were simply untrue. The citizens of Eden all seem to have their own interpretations of how Brody came to haunt the world above them. Most of the adults followed the belief that Brody was sent by God to guide them into Eden, and would someday soon return, opening the vault doors and releasing them to reconstruct the world they had left behind before the bombs fell. This belief helped the adults come together and form the Church of Brody of Eden-Day Saints. While indoctrination of the children was important within the Church, it had a tendency to fail miserably.

The children of Eden couldn’t help but take the stories told to them that didn’t make much sense, and make their own using their imagination. Many of the school children would sit in circles in the dark, telling tales of a horrific figure of a man with a wild beard of octopus tentacles and the arms of a colossus, who would roam the woods in search of bad children to eat. It’s rumored that if you stare into a mirror in a dark bathroom and repeat his name 5 times, he will climb his way out of the mirror and climb back in, taking you along with him.

Autumn has never been known to be like most of the children her age. While other kids would spend sleepless nights in fear that Brody would crawl his way from under their bed, with red eyes and gnashing teeth, she instead became obsessively curious. Autumn was always observant of just how important this history was to the adults of Eden, and it fascinated her. She couldn’t help but question everything, but was too afraid to ask. But she insisted on knowing fact from fiction, finding out the truth behind the legend; she wanted so dearly to meet Brody for herself.

Finally, with this project, she was given free rein to ask all the questions her heart could desire answers to. So where should she begin? Who should she interview? She started where just about any child would when they want to know something – her parents.

*****

It was just about impossible for Autumn to see her parents in the same room together. She never really understood why, and the subject always seemed too taboo to inquire about. There were certain kids she went to school with that she tended to avoid because she couldn’t stand them, so with this logic she always assumed that her parents despised each other. How two people that once fell in love could grow to hate one another that much was far beyond her comprehension.

Her father was at home in their section of the Living Quarters, sitting in his favorite chair in the living room reading an old spy novel. As the head surgeon in Eden’s Clinic, he would spend his time reading whatever he could find to pass the time until someone needed serious medical treatment. He would always say to Autumn, “I have no idea why I read these damn things” to which she never had a response.

“Hey dad, is mom around?”

“Nope. At work. With the Governor. As usual.” Mr. Hunter always seemed to harbor resentment towards her mother and her job as secretary for the Governor of Eden. She could never understand why, and of course, was too afraid to ask.

“Well, I was hoping I could interview you for this history project. I’m doing it on Brody.”

Without looking away from the book, he says, “Sure kiddo. Ask away. But as you know, I’m not much of the religious type. That, of course, is your mother’s department of expertise.”

Mrs. Hunter was one of the founding members of the Church alongside Father Ham, and they were both strongly devoted to its causes. She spent endless nights reading Autumn biblical stories and sharing wisdom that she believed would shape Autumn’s concept of morality and faith. Of course, Autumn’s parents disagreed tremendously. While her mother insisted on teaching their daughter the words of their savior, her father had always claimed to be a man of Science.

“Ok, first question – will Brody ever return to Eden? And if so, what would you say to him?”

At this, her father put his book down. “Hmm, you sound just like her mother.” Autumn couldn’t stand when he said things like that. “I don’t think he’s coming back. I don’t even think the bombs fell on New Haven. It’s been over twelve years and nothing has changed. It’s just not probable anymore to think he’s still up there. And even if he was, why would he care about us?”

“But what if you’re wrong?”

“But I’m not.”

“For the sake of the question, what would you say to him if you were wrong?”

He grabs a cup of coffee that’s rested near his book, and sips from it seemingly deep in thought. “Well… I honestly don’t know. But-” There was a sudden, loud rattle of something vibrating from across the room. While it caught them off guard, they both knew what it meant.

“Looks like we will have to continue this later; Duty calls. À plus tard, ma amoure?”

“Peut-être, peut-être pas,” Autumn responded, clearly disappointed.

V – We All Have Secrets

The Governor and Mrs. Hunter had made plans to end their affair since right after it began. Fueled by resentment towards their marriages, the cycle never seemed to end. They would work long hours together trying to run Eden efficiently, and when all was said and done and the door to the Governor’s office was closed, they would ravenously tear each other’s clothes off and make love on his desk. Afterwards, they would drown together in a sea of their guilt, promising each other that this would never happen again, but eventually the constant hair pulling, neck biting and secrecy became something of an addiction. They knew they weren’t in love, but there was an appeal beyond sex that kept them coming back for more. Within the close quarters that the people of Eden resided in, this was the closest thing to privacy they ever had.

They always discussed the consequences of someone finding out – what would the people think if the founder of the Church and their elected leader were found mauling each other like wild beasts in his office? It couldn’t have ended well. He needed her position within the Church to garner the support of the faithful which guaranteed his return, and she needed to make sure he was doing his job within the guidance and best interest of the Church. Their relationship was unstable but symbiotic.

So when a young girl showed up to his office wanting to ask questions about the history of Eden as Mrs. Hunter sat upon her knees under his desk giving him fellatio, the imminence of him having a heart attack is quite explicit.

“Sorry to intrude, sir. My mom wasn’t outside to let me in.” He almost didn’t recognize the daughter of his own secretary. He surely didn’t remember her name. “Do you happen to know where she is?” the young girl asked inquisitively.

Obviously unable to hear what was going on, Mrs. Hunter had kept at it until the Governor began nervously swatting at her head, and then covering her mouth to signal silence. “I’m afraid she stepped out to grab some lunch. I’m not too sure when she will be back. But what can I do for you little one?”

“I’m doing this project for Madame Massara’s History class and I wanted to ask you and my mom a few questions about Eden and Brody.”

“Well, I’m a bit busy, but maybe I can answer a few. Fire away my dear,” he said stalling, trying to come up with an excuse to kick her out.

“Thanks mister!” She opened her notebook excitedly and began reading questions she had wrote down earlier. “Ok, what can you tell me about how Eden became our home? Why are we here?”

The Governor fidgeted in his chair uncomfortably, trying hard not to kick Mrs. Hunter in the process. “Well long before you were born, we used to live above ground with many other people. But because of religious institutions our nations went to war with each other in the name of God and reduced each other to dust.” In disgust, Mrs. Hunter punched him in his tentacles, causing him to wince and mutter “shit!”

“Are you ok sir?” she asked.

“Ah… yes, yes my dear. I’ve just got…awful… hemorrhoids.” He immediately regretted his response. Typically the Governor was a lot more graceful when communicating with the people of Eden. He could debate with the best of them, and was known for being able to sway opinions and judgments with the best of them. But this scenario could be considered anything but ‘typical’.

The child closed her notebook, setting it down on the edge of his desk. “Oh… Is that like a tummy ache or something? Should I come back later?”

“Uh… yes! A tummy ache! You should come back a bit later when your mother returns and maybe we all can sit down and discuss your project together.” He thought for a moment before adding, “Maybe you should pay Father Ham a visit? I bet he would have a lot to say on the subject.”

“That’s a great idea. Thanks again, sir. And be sure to let my mom know I’ll be back.”

“Will do, little lady.”

She left the office, supposedly unaware of what was going on from under the desk. The Governor gave a long sigh of relief as the door closed and pushed his chair away from the desk allowing Mrs. Hunter out from under the desk.

“Who was that? For Brody’s sake, I was scared to death!” said Mrs. Hunter, using a handkerchief to wipe around her mouth, fixing her smeared makeup.

“Trust me, you don’t want to know,” The Governor said, zipping up the fly on his pants. “Let’s just leave it at that. Let’s head to the cafeteria. I sure could use a drink after that one.”

“Well what the hell was that all about religions causing the war? Why would you ever say that to anyone?!”

“I was nervous as hell! I just sort of blurted it out… Who cares? No one will hear about it.”

They made their way out of the office. Mrs. Hunter stopped to fix her skirt, noticing a picture of Audrey Hepburn on the edge of the desk.

“Hmm… Breakfast at Tiffany’s… I used to love that film.”

VI – Haven and Hell

Autumn couldn’t stand the pet names the Governor called her, but she knew, as her mother’s boss, she had to put on a straight face and give him respect. She had always thought he was really weird – he never seemed to remember her name even though she had visited her mother in the Legal Quarters multiple times. And what was a hemorrhoid? She had to make a note in her notebook to look it up in the dictionary a bit later.

It was at this point, halfway to the Religious Quarters to interview Father Ham, that she realized she had left her beloved Audrey Hepburn. She quickly turned around and ran her way back to the office.

She made sure to knock loudly and declare she was going to enter in case he was inside throwing up because of his bad tummy ache. When she didn’t receive a response, she slowly opened the door but found no one inside.

She made her way to the edge of the desk where her notebook was, but stopped to look around the room. She never quite noticed all the interesting things within it – the floor was carpeted with soft material that felt like you were on a cloud and a large flag with red and white stripes and white stars in a blue rectangle hung on a staff behind the desk, but nothing got her attention more than the bookshelves along the walls with rows of books stretching taller than she could reach. She wanted to read all of them! She was sure they held all the secrets to Eden’s past and the answers to all her questions.

She began investigating the endless rows of books with titles like The Art of War and Albert Einstein and the Theory of Relativity. While so many of them sounded interesting, she was determined to find a book specifically about Eden or Brody. Finally, she stumbles upon what appears to be a document binder with the words ‘New Haven’ written on the spine. As she began to pull it from the shelf, it stops halfway and a mechanism within the shelf causes a stirring behind her. She turns around to see the Governor’s desk move on its own across the floor, the floor panels from whence it sat opening up like doors, revealing a set of stairs leading down to a mysterious corridor.

Any other child of Eden would have contemplated going down the stairs for some time before arriving at a decision, but Autumn simply grabbed her Audrey Hepburn and fearlessly made her way down the stairs. There was a long hallway that lead to another set of stairs, but this time they led upward, far beyond Eden.

This is it, Autumn thought to herself. The answers to all her questions were soon to come. She could feel it in her bones.

*****

Brody, with a hangover from hell, was gearing up for another trek into the wasteland. The days and nights seemed to blur together the past few days that he had spent trying to drink himself to death. He was too much of a coward to use the assault rifle to end it, but the alcohol proved equally as ineffective. He found himself passing out before making it to the sweet hereafter and waking up feeling like death, but not quite there.

As he zips up his hazmat suit, opens the shutters and checks the rifle for ammunition, the sound of a door opening on the far end of the lab behind him causes his heart to skip a few beats. He quickly aims the rifle in the direction of the door, trying hard to keep his aim steady as his hands sweat and shake in fear.

A young girl, no older than ten, walks out. He swears she is a ghost, an illusion. He has to be losing his mind. She has jet black hair with curls like withered tree branches and a black skirt with white polka dots. Her skin is cocaine white and her clothes seem old and a bit tattered.

His finger glides along the trigger of the rifle. He wants to shoot her to make damn sure she isn’t real, but the thought of shooting a child sends him into a frenzy. He begins to grit his teeth, sweat pouring down his forehead. He drops the rifle and begins to sob, falling to his knees and staring at the floor.

He wants for her to be gone when he looks back up, but when he does she’s still there. Only this time her gaze isn’t set on him, but behind him, out the window. He turns to see what she’s looking at and witnesses a miracle – it has finally stopped snowing.

VII – In Exile

Autumn took her time putting together her presentation. She needed to make sure everything went smoothly. She was determined not to let Massara get the best of her. History class will finally be history, she thought chuckling to herself. She spent endless nights writing and rewriting her speech and practicing in front of a mirror. She imagined Audrey Hepburn coming alive on the cover of her notebook and giving her words of encouragement. When the day finally came, she was beyond prepared.

Her speech, to her classmates, read like a fairy tale – she spoke of her adventures snooping through the Governor’s office, discovering the secret passageway, and climbing the long stairs that lead to the heavens above. She spoke of meeting Brody, who didn’t have an octopus beard or arms of a colossus; she actually found him to be quite nice and extremely intelligent, and he spent time drinking liquids with smells so powerful that it reminded her of bleach. The story really began to pick up when she told everyone how she saw the outside world from something Brody called a ‘window’. He told her about the sky, and trees, and how there are rivers of water that animals used to drink from. He explained that since the bombs fell two years ago, all life outside had been whipped out. He was the only one left.

As the story stretched on, the children’s eyes grew large and there were constant reactions of oooos and aaaahs. People passing the classroom began to file in, curious as to what all the commotion was about.

The adults in the room at first thought that this all was a work of fiction, until Autumn began to explain the real history of Eden. Brody told her Eden was originally a scientific experiment called ‘Project Eden’. With the threat of nuclear war relevant at the time, but not quit imminent, the staff of the New Haven Research Facility convinced a random selection of people to seek refuge under the lab. Their intent was to study human nature and interaction on a small scale. Each scientist was given a focus, and Brody’s was to study how religions and faith emerge and falter among people living together in a confined space with limited resources.

Autumn’s presentation continued on for a whole two hours, leaving everyone in the room on the edge of their seats. As she finishes, instead of applauding as she expected, everyone begins to talk among themselves, some quickly filing out of the room in what seemed to be a panic.

*****

The people of Eden begin to riot. Everyone begins to split into separate factions based upon what they believe to be true. While some demanded answers from the mayor, others felt this was the end of times.

Autumn scurries from place to place in search of her parents. They aren’t at home in their Living Quarters, or in the Cafeteria. She finally finds her mother in the Church Quarters, alongside Father Ham and the rest of the Church congregation. They are seated in long rows of pews, hand in hand, singing songs of praise in creepy unison. Mrs. Hunter has tears in her eyes when Autumn shows up.

“Mom, we have to find dad and get out of here!”

“I heard about what you did, Autumn. Brody has spoken to you. There is no world outside for us. We should depart this world and go onto the next to be with God.”

“But mom –”

“I’m so sorry for being a horrible mother. I’m trying so hard to seek forgiveness before I go.”

Autumn is horrified. She has never seen her mother like this, and the eeriness of the congregation gives her the feeling that something horrid was about to happen.

She races to the Clinic to find her father who is in the middle of surgery, completely oblivious to what is going on, his hands wrists-deep in the chest cavity of some unconscious patient.

“Mom’s in trouble!”

Pulling bloody soaked hands from his patient, he quickly cleans up, and without changing clothes he follows Autumn to the tall doors of the Church Quarters.

“Autumn, wait here,” he says, making his way inside only to return a few minutes later with a distraught look on his face.

“What happened?! Where’s mom?!”

“You don’t want to know,” he responded while fighting the feeling that he might faint.

Finally pulling himself together, Mr. Hunter takes Autumn by her hand and they run together to the Cafeteria.

The people of Eden have taken up arms and have pinned the Governor into a corner, demanding answers. “You’ve been lying to us.” “You’ve known about Project Eden all along, haven’t you?” “Blasphemer!” “Devil incarnate!”

The Governor somehow manages to slip between the mobs and makes a run to his office.

“Get him!” The mobs follow, fueled by hatred and vengeance.
Arriving at the office, the Governor quickly closes the door, locking it behind him. He can hear the mobs pounding at the door, trying to break it down as he opens a safe hidden under a carpet upon the floor. Inside he presses a red button that causes red emergency lights to begin flashing throughout Eden.

“SELF DESTRUCT SEQUENCE INITIATED.”

The mob manages to break down the door, attacking the Governor who pulls a gun from under his desk. Autumn watches as he manages to shoot a few people before her father sneaks up behind him and impales him with the flag staff.

“We have to get to New Haven! Follow Me!” Autumn shouts.
The survivors follow her through the secret passage and up the stairs into the labs above. Brody has opened the shutters, grabbed his rifle and helps lead everyone into the wasteland far away from the facility. They travel about a mile away before bearing witness to Eden and the Research Facility rupture with a large explosion that morphs into a macabre mushroom cloud.

Suddenly, without warning, the dozen survivors take charge at Brody in an attempt to disarm him, but he quickly draws the gun upon them stopping them in their tracks.

“Brody,” Mr. Hunter steps forward from the crowd. “What is this? What have you done to us? We believed in you!”

Brody begins to sob hysterically, keeping the gun aimed at the crowd. “Listen, what I’ve done is inexcusable. I didn’t realize this until the bombs fell and everything I loved, everything I had was destroyed. I knew I had to right my wrongs by returning to Eden when the time was right.”

“But this, you can’t blame me for. You people insisted that I was your Christ. I didn’t ask for that! You had your loved ones; a home and all your needs were met, but that wasn’t enough. Now it’s up in flames.”

Autumn stood a few feet away, wishing she was anywhere but here. A rustle of leaves catches the attention of the survivors, Brody and Autumn. I mysterious creature stands, staring at them with large black eyes and branches coming out of its head.

“It’s… it’s a deer,” Brody says in amazement and disbelief.

Autumn wanders over to the creature, fearless and curious. She gently strokes its head, mesmerized by the softness of its fur. She then climbs on the creatures back and rides off into the distance, leaving Eden, Brody and mobs in her wake.

A feeling of rapture consumes her. This is the new beginning she always wished for, and she followed the horizon to nowhere.

Rey Harris is a creative writer, illustrator, comic artist and college student. With an insatiable wanderlust and a backpack full of books, he can be seen skateboarding all around New York City on a regular basis, handing out free comics and zines. Read his rants at reyreyallday.wordpress.com or follow his comic art at facebook.com/autumncomedown

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