The Clouds as Seen from Ellsworth Act I: Return
Erin slumped along the couch as she sprawled out across the furniture. Her father would be coming home from work soon, and it was almost midnight. Erin hated being home alone most of the time, but her dad had insisted it would pay off. She wished it was like the Old Times she’d seen so often on the flat screen. Erin hadn’t been born but her father always told her of the times before the wars, when everyone fought with each other before allying together against the Changelings. She was twelve now and had seen her fair share of sights, they weren’t the unusual around these parts. Erin’s father and she lived in a sizable home in a rather isolated area off the border of Seattle.
These territories were owned by someone named the Dragon, according to what Erin’s dad told her. He allowed Erin and her father to live here, only conditioning that they pay monthly “mortgage” to pay for their stay. Erin’s father never had much problems keeping up the payments and they’d never had an incident, although there were many of them in the Seattle territory. If one were to fall behind on their payments, the Dragon would rear his ugly head. Everyone knows, the Dragon’s flames seethe.
The other territories of the United States were owned and governed by several different figures, the humans and the Changelings going at it for territory ever since the war began. Erin knew nuclear holocaust had ravaged the States to a point where they’d never recover to what they were. There were forests residing in the untouched areas of the nuclear outset, such as parts of Washington and other states; but the sparse sights of majestic beauty were few and far between. But Erin always wondered what it looked like before, her father described it as beautiful and solitary.
Over the noise of the television, Erin could hear her father pulling into the driveway. She had turned the volume down before closing her eyes and pretending to sleep. Minutes had passed before her father finally came into the house and he had wandered for minutes at a time before Erin heard nothing at all. She thought he had went upstairs and went to sleep, but she had merely been fooled as she faced a barrage of tickling by her father. The laughing had been all there was for minutes, until they finally caught their breath.
Erin pulled the tiny wrapped box from underneath the cushions of the couch, throwing it in her father’s face before silencing his laughter in one fell swoop.
“What is that?” Erin’s father’s southern accent was still heavily present in his voice. He was born in Texas he told her, in times that were “very forcing” for him as a youth. He never explained to her what he meant by that.
Erin playfully punched her father. “Dad, it’s your birthday.”
Erin’s father’s eyes widened. “Well I’ll be damned Leigh Nasser, you’re getting old. How old will that be little lady?” Erin hated when her father talked in third person.
She shrugged her shoulders.
Leigh laughed. “The years start to feel like days honestly pretty girl. That’s thirty-one by my count.” Erin laughed along with Leigh, who looked no older than twenty-two by Erin’s standards. All but the few strands of hair that formed a patch of grey atop his head indicated Leigh was in the prime of his life.
Leigh unlaced the ribbon holding the wrapping and opened the box, pulling the necklace from it. The necklace was laced with small silver diamonds and a locket, which Leigh clicked open. Inside was a picture of Leigh and Erin a couple of months ago mountain climbing, smiling and embracing.
“A little something to remember me by dad,” Erin said sarcastically. “Should you ever forget me.”
Leigh grabbed Erin, pulling her closer to him as he kissed his daughter on the forehead. “I could never forget you Erin. Nor would I have cause to, you’re going to be around for a long time, unfortunately.” Leigh smiled before instinctively standing from the couch, looking to the window in a hurry.
“Did you hear that?” He asked Erin, who stood up nervously. “Go upstairs Erin, I’ll be up in a moment.”
“This is not for debate,” Erin knew not to question her father’s order. She ran up the stairs in a hurry as Leigh dimmed the lights to the living room. Erin stood atop the staircase as she heard the front door open. She followed as she spotted through the window several men standing in front of the house. Their spotlights from their trucks were the sole source of light as they shone on the house. Leigh held his hand out to cover his eyes as he walked out on the deck.
“What’s going on here?” Leigh asked. Erin could spot that a few of the men were armed as they stood out like silhouette among the spotlight.
“Leigh Nasser.” One of the men called from the shadows. One of the men stepped up in front of the spotlights, revealing himself to be one of the neighbors, Johnny Chamberlain. Erin remembered Chamberlain as the worst of the worst, constantly causing problems for her father at every turn. They almost got into it bad last time, Erin imagined he was back to settle the score.
“Chamberlain,” Leigh’s Texan accent brought out a certain tone of distaste with Johnny’s surname. Chamberlain stepped closer to the house, laying a foot on one step before looking up to Leigh.
“Nasser,” Johnny said again as he laughed then looked to his friends. “That sounds familiar boys, don’t it?”
Erin noticed Leigh tense as he began to grit his teeth; Erin walked closer to the door as she tried to remain silent.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Johnny pointed his sawed-off shotgun at Leigh. “You know. They say Changelings are almost unaffected by normal bullets anymore. Only a certain coating of metal will hurt them, lead they say.”
“What are you doing Johnny?” Leigh didn’t make a muscle as Erin watched him clench his fists in frustration.
“They say Nasser was their leader. Until he lost a crucial battle in New York. They thought he died, yet here he is, far to the west, away from everyone. Living a peaceful life. While everyone else suffers. Yet, if you weren’t him I’d think it were appropriate this how our little altercation would end, with your face blown in.”
“Joh-” The shot was abrupt and swift. Erin heard her father slump over as she ran from in the kitchen and out the front door. Her father lay on the floor of the deck, back against the wall. Yet he looked untouched.
“Erin,” Leigh sprung swiftly forward, pushing Chamberlain from the deck and grabbing his daughter.
“Light him up!”
Erin closed her eyes as she felt her father shield her. The shooting stopped soon after, but Erin felt weird. She opened her eyes and saw her father standing over her, the back of his shirt torn to shreds.
“Johnny, it’s a girl!” Erin heard one man say as everyone got quiet. Her vision was blurred; she was so confused with what was going on. She was tired.
“Erin?” Leigh called out to her as he pressed his hand to her chest, revealing the wound to her chest, small but precise. The blood seeped from the wound as tears began to fall from Erin’s face. Leigh could see she was losing her vision, she was fading.
“Come on baby,” Leigh supported the small of her neck as he lifted her up slightly. “You’re gonna be okay. I promise you’re going to be okay.” Leigh looked to Johnny and his men, all who were too stunned to move. He couldn’t ask them for help, he didn’t have time, he…
“Erin, please. Please, don’t do this to me baby girl.” Tears began to fall from his eyes as he pulled his daughter closer to him. Her grip on his hand loosened and went limp.
He couldn’t explain it, the feeling. There were several at once. Like a single strand being cut by the sharpest pair of scissors. Like the sharpest dagger entering the depths of his heart. The remaining fire in him went out, replaced only by the cold.
Leigh laid his daughter’s body before him as he looked to his hands. His eyes were closed, soaked with tears, salt filling his mouth profusely. He clenched his fist so hard, they began to bleed from the effort. Leigh didn’t feel it. He looked to the sky as it began to rain, laughing ever so silently to himself.
Leigh opened his eyes, his irises now smoky-white, coupled with the whites of his eyes, now a startling jet black.