Echoes of Midnight

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The Culling

FOUR NIGHTS AGO

Greta loved the idea of time while travelling. Back when Hans used to accompany her, he would say, “Time is a luxury, Greta. Don’t waste it.”

The irony of it rang through her mind as she listened to the crackle of speakers aboard the ship of M/V Queen Victoria.

Attention passengers. Attention. This is Captain George Campbell of Queen Victoria. My crew have reported an issue for the passengers bound for Bellevedere. There is a storm moving northwest with a speed of 100 miles per hour. For the safety of every soul in this ship, we will speed up north to get ahead of the storm and dock instead in Aquafirth. Again, my apologies to all those affected with these unforeseen changes. Rest assured that we will arrive at the Seaside Dock before 1800 hours. Thank you and please stay tuned for further announcements.

Greta groaned in frustration. Her trip to Bellevedere was pushed for one more day. Hans would likely tease her to spend another week or two there, but now it felt different. No Hans, no husband, and a castle tour gone awry. Outrageous.

She and Hans have travelled to Nouveau weeks before their planned wedding. They went to Aquafirth first, for a taste of its seas and sandy beaches. The following year, they visited Haicraig and hiked its steep mountains. Except Bellevedere.

The village of haunted castles. Did they think it will scare me off? Greta mocked silently as she entered her cabin, went to bed, and slept like a baby.

Her dreams were a wreck of thunder and rain. Tumultuous and jarring in its seams. Yet, far beyond her subconscious, something called to her.

An alarm blaring through her ears.

Greta woke with a start, oblivious to how much time she spent on sleep. She sat up quickly and listened to the vibrating speakers ringing above her head.

is your captain speaking...we have finally arrived at Seaside Dock at exactly 1800 hours. My crew and I are happy to have served you throughout this trip. For those who are bound to Bellevedere, please stay tuned for further advisories. Authorities will be posted outside for compliance to safety protocols.

Upon hearing the captain’s orders, she hurried out of her cabin then took the stairs to the ship’s lowest level. She wouldn’t let authorities nor a storm delay her trip further.

The entire base was a storage for cargo. She sighed in relief when she spotted her car – an old model of Dodge bought with Hans before their engagement. She keyed in the engine and stepped on the accelerator. Tires squeaked, engines revved with a roar as she attempted to escape the ship.

The exit was barred with a fort – littered with people milling around to guard it from any fleeing passenger. Greta didn’t budge though. To her surprise, the authorities were not Marines but civilians.

Greta laughed at the euphemism and sped up the Dodge.

Fweeeet! Fweeeet! Whistles and shouts of alarm whooshed by her. The highway ahead transformed into a bizarre landscape – too different from her home, the Old World.

It was the greatest paradox. The Old World consisted of countries following the spins of time – more adept to changes in technology and evolution of cultures. Meanwhile, Nouveau had always been the less developed and the poorer continent deprived of knowledge and opportunities.

History was the cornerstone of her relationship with Hans. Years after he died, Greta begun to lose interest in the subject and slowly loathe it for years. A collection of stories would not resurrect the only man she had ever loved.

Yet, questions still lingered in her mind. How did the cleaving of these two worlds began? Why is Nouveau called the “Land Stuck in Time”?

Greta wondered as she passed by a sign. It remained unreadable to her eyes as the rain poured in loud large drops.

Tack. Tack. Tack.

A litany from the sky that reminded her of the dangerous situation she was in. She drove through endless groves of tall pine trees and entered a frontier. Fences barricaded the road while the highway subtly turned into a rough rocky path.

Greta didn’t stop despite the mysterious change of the landscape.

She squinted far beyond her path and spotted a large oak tree blocking her way. Beside its trunk were silhouettes. Women, to be exact, with their slender waists and long lengths of hair.

She stepped on the pedal brakes and pulled up a few meters away from where she saw the figures. But on a closer look, no one was there.

Far ahead, the road diverged into two. With no one to ask for, Greta looked up for signage but found nothing except for a shimmering glow in front of her. A lantern, perhaps. Greta assured herself as she continued towards the path from where the glow was beckoning.

The Dodge coughed at ignition, after Greta put her foot on the accelerator and plunged through the glowing path.

Iridescent colors of a rainbow glimmered before her eyes as she witnessed the sudden absence of rain. It wasn’t Nouveau from her memories, but somewhere else. The pine trees weren’t the same. They were large enough to shadow the road from the sky.

Greta tilted her head and saw nothing but the dark. No moon. No stars. The middle of nowhere, she guessed as she pondered whether she was lost or the landscape had simply changed over the years.

Troubled thoughts swirled through her mind when suddenly, tar covered her rearview mirror. It spread outwards and filled the entire windshield, forcing her to step on the brakes as the car careened into a stop.

Thunk!

The sudden collision to something unseen bumped her head with the steering wheel. She felt a warm liquid flowing freely down her temples and touched it. The crimson tinge of blood came away with her fingers. Her vision blurred in waves as she fought to stay conscious but to no avail.

She was already dead.
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