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Felicitaboro
By hazelginger

 

Felicitaboro

Somewhere in the Alps lies the isolated village of Felicitaboro. The town had been separated from all civilization since the 1700's when a strange thing happened to the village. Ever since they were separated from the rest of the world, they were in a constant state of happiness. This village knew no mourning, for everyone here stopped aging at thirty, and never died. They knew no jealousy and had no disputes, for everyone was beautiful and liked for who they were, and everyone had everything they could wish for. They knew no famine, because they were never short of food. They knew no poverty, for everything was free. They knew no heartbreak, for there your first love is your true love and your only love forever. They knew no disease, no pain, no fear. Each day was clear and pleasantly warm, each night was crisp and cool. It never rained, but there was always plenty of water and the grass was always lush and green. One might dare to say that life in Felicitaboro was perfect, but that's not quite right, for in that is its single flaw; life was too perfect in Felicitaboro. Their lives held such monotonous happiness that all happiness lost it's meaning, just as a word seems to loose it's meaning when said over and over again. Of course, that was just the way life was, and none of them really noticed that anything was wrong, because everything was all right.

On the edge of the village was a picturesque little farm, a little blue farmhouse standing in the midst of gardens and fields of wheat. Upstairs, snuggled into his bed and satin sheets was Deverell Faustvic, sleeping, and dreaming pleasant dreams (for what other dreams were there to be had here?). Suddenly, from his sleep, he was seized awake from smells drifting up from downstairs. Upon rising he was rather sure he smelled bacon... and eggs. Perhaps there was some toast with that, he didn't know, he didn't mind. He slipped up onto his feet with a yawn, then found some clothes, put them on, and trundled downstairs. By the time he reached the foot of the stairs, the smell had snapped him wide-awake. Aislinn Faustvic was busy in the kitchen with her craft. "Darling," he called to her, "Could you be so kind as to make sure I'm awake before you start cooking?" He simpered and rubbed his eyes.

She spun around to face him and bit her lip. "Sorry Dev."

He laughed. "No, it's all right, you know I don't mind." He wandered over to her, caressed her, and pressed a kiss against her forehead. "I love you." He paused "And your cooking."

She smirked, then returned his kiss onto his lips. "Love you too."

With Olympic speed and a ballerina's grace, she set the table and laid out the food. "Gannon!" she shouted at the ceiling. "Come down! We're having breakfast!"

There was the familiar thump of Gannon rolling out of bed, then down he came. At seventeen, Gannon was the spitting image of his father. He had the same long, wavy black hair and same wide dark eyes. The thing that disassociated them was the single lock of hair that always fell in Gannon's face. Gannon, like that strand of hair, was always a little askew from the crowd, a little rebellious, always the independent thinker. No one minded, of course, this was Felicitaboro. They loved him all the same; he was everyone's son.

His mother, though, his mother was something else entirely. Aislinn, with her wild bright blonde hair and not unpleasantly pale skin, she seemed to have her own glow. She radiated, and so did her personality. Her generosity and sensitivity were contagious. Aislinn was proud of her reputation as the best cook in town. But then again, everyone was the best something in town.

Gannon dropped right down into his seat eagerly. His eyes grazed the table around once before his hands ever moved. They sprung like striking serpents for the bacon. He piled it on.

"Easy, Gannon," his mother said softly, seating herself. "You are what you eat, you know."

"And you know what bacon's made of," Deverell piped in.

"Wouldn't be the first time someone called me a pig," Gannon said through a mouthful as he scooped a lump of scrambled eggs down onto his plate.

His father grinned. "Atta boy. Eat up." He reached out and patted Gannon heartily on the head.

Slowly Gannon looked up from his food. "Please don't touch me while I'm eating."

Deverell retracted his hand. "Well gee... sorry."

Gannon sighed and smiled. "I love you, dad," he murmured.

***

Late in the day, after school hours, the teens and kids reigned free in the streets. They did as they wished, because they were all good children, and none of them had any trouble or harm to get into. Either way, little six-year-old Siddell Czupryna waited outside school for his big sister to come walk him home. He didn't need anyone to walk him home, for you could never get lost in Felicitaboro, but he loved his older sister very much, so he always stayed behind all his friends and waited for her.

Now here she came. In the teenage world, Junella Czupryna held the same stature as a goddess. She was a real firecracker. She had bright flowing red-orange hair like flame, fiery hazel eyes, and a perfect even tan to match. Even her personality was like fire: loud, wild, full of laughter. Girls wanted to be her and guys just wanted her, but she was spoken for. Her step bounced lightly as she came for Siddell. "Hi li'l guy!" she chirped. "Ready to go?"

"Yeah!" he shouted. He scrambled for her and took her long, slender fingers in his tiny hand. Junella ruffled his dirty-blonde mess of hair and he giggled and flailed his hands toward her. "Stoppit!" he choked through laughter, "Stoppit!"

"Fine," she sighed. She gave him one last tap on the head before heading for home. A few minutes later, they trotted on into the sandy driveway and found Junella's love waiting there for her. She ran for him. "Gannon! Gannon baby!" She embraced him tight and he smothered her with one big, long, kiss.

"Ew!" Siddell declared from down the walkway.

Junella ripped her head away from Gannon's face and cast a glance to her brother. "Go inside," she commanded.

"Aw man..." whined Siddell. Grudgingly he stomped on in. Junella laughed, watching him go: a loud, sharp cackle.

"You're cruel," Gannon said with an equal amount of affection and sarcasm.

"Naw," replied Junella. "Just a sister." She snuggled her head into the crook of his neck. "And I wanted us to be alone."

"Aw, well that's justified," he said. "Scheming little..." He stopped himself there. "Now where were we?"

"About here," Junella said, grabbing his face and pressing it back against her own. Gannon never protested it once. They stood that way for awhile (they never had to hurry, anyway), then Junella slid back and made a proposition. "Hey... Gan... what do you say we go uphill, lie there awhile, watch the clouds... mom made some breakfast, put it in a basket."

Gannon never even had to consider that his mom might worry about him; he knew no worry here. "Yeah, let's go," he said casually.

The Hill was the single most secluded place in the village. It stood directly at the center of town, the only rising place on this mountain plateau. It was mossy and pleasant with a single great oak rising at the peak, a symbol of prosperity to them all, not that they needed one. It was quiet, it was quaint, and no matter when you went, you'd be all by your lonesome with whomever you brought. It just worked out that way.

They ran all the way up, hands and fingers entangled, and never got tired. They waved out a bright blue blanket like a flag, then let it settle down and rest on the ground. Gannon fell right on, but he looked to Junella and saw her first removing her shoes and socks before even touching it. "Whatchya doin'?" he asked innocently: a child's question.

"I just wanna feel the breeze on my feet," she said quietly, just looking at her toes, wiggling them.

"Why?" Simple enough for a word that could be such a big question.

"No reason," she whispered into his ear, and it was only then he noticed that she'd gotten so close. She lay down and snuggled up right into him, snuggled up tight.

They didn't eat much that afternoon.

***

Yet Aislinn did wonder where Gannon was. Gannon was always somewhere, always away from home. She never did mind, though, this was Felicitaboro. He couldn't get into any harm. She safely, and correctly, assumed that he was simply with his Junella. So she proceeded to make lunch for Deverell and herself. She set the water on the stove to a boil.

Out in the fields, Deverell sat with a pile of fresh potatoes, peeling them, leaving the skins in a pile to use as fertilizer. He moved the blade in careful motions around the root. Not that he needed to be careful, this was Felicitaboro. Or so one might think.

Deverell's mind wandered, and with it wandered his eyes. He cast his gaze up to the sky and some birds flying overhead. The sensation in his finger was sudden and startling. Jerking his head down abruptly, he stared at his finger. Careful observation noted it was just a touch shorter than it had been before. Gushing forth from it was a curious coppery crimson liquid, which, in thinking about it awhile, he realized was blood. Everyone knew what blood was, but you forgot about it when you never really saw it much. Surrounding his finger was something of a haunting feeling he'd never known before. It throbbed and bit at him most ferociously. Frozen in wonder, he stared for quite some time. "My God..." he murmured to himself, eyes squinting, eyebrows furrowed in scrutiny. "What is this." Carefully, he raised his blade and drew it down against the joint of his left index finger. For a moment, he paused, and another new sensation rushed over him; fear. It made him cold, it shivered down his throat, and for the first time in his life he had to stop and think about his actions. He loved it, though; he loved this new feeling. It was strange, it was exciting. He shut his eyes and placed his force on the blade. In the silence was the sound of a little snap as the blade broke through the tendon and bone, then his finger fell to the ground, hitting his shoe, then rolling off with a patter. That feeling intensified, burning, hot, spreading back through his hand, down his arm. Deeply he inhaled, and again he said to himself, "What... is... this?"

Tears of amazement reached his eyes. "Aislinn!" he screamed to the house. "Aislinn!" He went running for her. "Look! Look!" And the blood soaked his sleeve and left trails in the grass, all the way behind him.

***

Evening fell. The sky painted itself a pure inky black, dotted with pinhole stars and the full disk of the moon. This evening marked the monthly Town Meeting. They didn't discuss the budget or the election, because they had no such things. They simply congregated to share music, art, and other works, and anyone who wished to make an announcement could do so. So everyone in town pulled together at the base of The Hill. Chairs arced about a podium in rows of semi-circles. Through the crowds went Deverell, his left hand surreptitiously hid deep in his pocket, bandages around the missing finger to keep blood from soaking into the denim. Gannon and Junella crept on in, Junella dragging him along behind her, her quick step far outpacing his own. Releasing Junella and leaving one last peck on her cheek, Gannon departed to join his parents. "Mom! Dad!" he called, then went scampering.

"Gannon dear!" Aislinn called. "Where have you been?"

"Junella," Gannon replied.

Smirking, Aislinn said. "I thought as much." Slowly she turned her fawn's eyes up to her husband. "Deverell... are you going to tell him... or...?"

"Let him find out with the others," Deverell said quietly, lying his head down on hers.

Ignoring his father's plan, Deverell said, "Find out what? What, dad?"

"You wait," said Deverell, blunt but calm. "You wait and see."

Gannon was never good at waiting.

In the crowd, Eustace Isaza, the blacksmith, Deverell's best friend, called to him. "Hey! Dever!"

"Hey, Eu!" Deverell barked back. He raised his operational right hand and clapped it against Eustace's extended left.

Eustace laughed heartily. "How's my little brother, so to speak?" And what answer was there for this question other than yes? The question itself stuck in the culture as sort of a reflex.

"You wouldn't believe how good I am," Deverell said as he pressed his lips into a smug, slick smile.

"Really that good, huh?" inquired Eustace.

"You'll see," said Deverell, "You'll see..."

Laughing heartily the way he did, Eustace said, "I guess I will."

Everyone pulled to order then as they were done mulling. They needed no facilitator for they did a fine enough job keeping themselves in order on their own. Junella finally found her way to her parents. Looking at them, one could never even tell they were related. Her father Hassan Czupryna looked much like an older version of her little brother, but his hair was a shade or two darker, and he had Junella's same bright hazel eyes. Her mother, Odelette, tall and dark, had feathery raven hair and deep jade eyes. "Mommy! Daddy!" called Junella, never having grown out of calling them such.

As everyone found their seats, Hassan kicked off the night with a stirring guitar solo. A painting was displayed, as was a sculpture, and a trio of girls sang a little hymn. Junella, who was just herself picking up on her father's music gene, played a delicate harp melody. The tune hung on the air so frailly that if you could hold it, you'd surely break it at the touch. Then Renshaw Quysner, the schoolmaster's son, and Semira Hoynoski crept sheepishly up to the podium and announced their engagement, to much wild applause. Then a cluster of friends preformed a haunting woodwind ensemble. Then Zuleika Micelotta, the seamstress, announced her pregnancy to an even greater applause than Renshaw and Semira's. A few more art presentations and the evening began to wind down. Everyone thought it was over, but that was just what Deverell was waiting for. As people started stirring, gathering up their things, Deverell stood up and headed for the podium. His stride was a confident goose step, his head was held aloft and grinning, and his hands were folded carefully, strategically, behind his back. He stood up tall at the podium, scanning the crowd, who were frozen in their positions from when he had risen. Slowly, they moved back to regular sitting positions and stared.

"Friends and neighbors!" Deverell addressed cheerily. "It's been a splendid night tonight. We saw some great art, heard some great music, great news. Well, I've saved my news for last... news that could very well change our entire existence."

The crowd was still, silent. The steady murmur that had run throughout the evening was gone.

"Today, well, it was just like any other day," Deverell said. "It always is, isn't it? It always has been. It always will be, right?"

There was a touch of a murmur of agreement to this.

Deverell chuckled. "No... You see, I was out doing my business in the fields, helping my wife prepare dinner, when I made an incredible discovery..."

From behind his back he slowly produced his hand. He held it up high for all to see. He pulled free the bandages like curtains in a magic trick, and there was a high-pitched howl of the gasps of the crowd. You could almost feel the oxygen being sucked away.

"Yes, my friends, your eyes do not deceive you," Deverell announced with a certain amount of pride. "With my blade I removed one of my very own fingers, and I was, -am-, filled with a strange sensation, the likes of which I have never experienced. We have heard tales about it in fable and ancient song from hundreds of years past, but I think we all believed these tales to be myths. Well, it's all true. The strange sensation of pain is as real as myself. What does this mean for the future? Well I can't say." Here, he paused thoughtfully. "But the exhilaration I feel is great. It's adrenaline, it's experience, it's change."

He stopped and waited for the audience to react, but they didn't even twitch.

"So," he continued slowly, "I hereby declare that tomorrow night, we hold a party at my house, my dearest Aislinn, young Gannon, and I. I want you all to come and try it. Don't be afraid..." he smiled. "There's nothing to fear."

And the applause then was great and loud, as though they believed him.

***

"How could you tell them there's nothing to fear!?" Aislinn shrieked, as soon as the door was shut. She had never known rage before, but now that she had it, she had to get it out of her.

For a moment or two, Deverell stared blankly, dumbstruck. "Because there isn't anything to fear."

"But you don't know that for sure," Aislinn said darkly. "You can't know that for sure. You don't know anything about this."

Deverell was silent because he had nothing to say to that. Nothing to say at all.

Aislinn's bottom lip shivered. "I'm just... I'm just a little..." She searched desperately for the word so uncommon here. "Scared, I guess, is that the word?"

"Yeah," Deverell said faintly, "That's the word."

"Well then... I'm scared." Aislinn's voice strained with the emotion. It drowned out that strange emotion of rage, but she still didn't like it.

Calmly and slowly, like approaching a caged animal, he shuffled over to her. She never moved, didn't even look at him. He slipped his arms around her shoulders and held him against herself. "Don't worry. Don't worry, my darling," he whispered down into her ear. "I won't let anything bad happen to you."

"This is bad," she said weakly.

"Not necessarily," replied Deverell. "Don't worry... shh..."

A loud report caused them both to jerk their heads up in alarm. Deverell released Aislinn and turned. Gannon stood by the door, staring at his father. "Let me see it," he demanded."

"See what?" Deverell inquired.

"You know what I mean," Gannon said.

Deverell went then to his son and held out his hand to him. Gannon inspected it thoroughly and could find no trick. It was genuine. "H... how? What?"

"Would you like me to show you," asked Deverell, gently. He wasn't going to force it on him.

"Don't do that to him," Aislinn said from across the room, almost but not quite shouting. That feeling of rage was bubbling up again.

Ignoring his wife, Deverell waited for an answer. Gannon, though, was silent, considering."

"Don't do that to our son!" Aislinn commanded, truly shouting this time.

They still ignored her. Gannon nodded slowly. "Yeah, but... just a little."

Deverell pulled a switchblade from his pocket and gripped Gannon's hand with his. Carefully he positioned the blade on Gannon's left thumb, pushed it down and dragged it. Just a little though. Blood oozed and quivered and snaked out of the wound. Pain spread like wildfire. Like a kicked dog, Gannon yelped and jumped back. Deverell stared at him.

"I don't like it," whimpered Gannon, "I don't like it, dad."

"Well alright then," Deverell said simply, "Alright then."

***

The party started at precisely an hour before the meeting of the previous night had started. Out in the field, where he had recently harvested and bailed the wheat, Deverell set a little fire and fueled it with branches he scraped off the roadside. Aislinn stood in the doorway, watching, as guests began to arrive, excited giggling children and their curious eager parents. Aislinn was not as eager as the rest.

"C'mon, honey!" Deverell called to her. "The party's starting!"

"I'm going to bed!" Aislinn announced, though she planned to do no such thing. She intended to stay here and keep an eye on her husband and son.

"Oh, baby, people will be expecting you!" Deverell said. "They'll be disappointed when you're not here."

Aislinn sighed. "Fine." She stepped on out the door and slunk to the field with the stride of a moody feline.

"That's my girl!" Deverell declared.

The space started filling out. People mulled around, waiting for the party to really start, sipping juices and such for there was no alcohol in these parts. They were waiting for the party to really start. For the party to start, they needed to wait for Eustace.

The Czuprynas arrived then, Hassan with his guitar, meeting with his band to play for the event. Junella sprinted for Gannon immediately; she was a bullet coming from a gun. She shot right for Gannon and splashed against him, slamming into him, splaying then clinging to him all at once. "Gannon!" she squealed. "Aren't you excited!?"

Gannon was a little staggered with surprise, but he shook it off. "Not... really."

"Why n-?" Junella began, then she glanced down at his hand and gasped shrilly. "You did it! Oh!" She pulled her head up and stared straight into his muddy eyes hungrily. "What was it like!?"

"It wasn't fun," Gannon replied.

Then, down the road, a speck gradually approached and grew into the form of Eustace Isaza, lugging a big wooden crate in his brawny arms. The crowd stood and stared, stalk-still, a scene familiar of that of the previous night. He greeted them all with a cheery whistle and a wave. He progressed straight up to Deverell and set down the crate at the center of the table that had been set for refreshments. "Deverell, my old friend," Eustace said formally, "The crowbar, if you please."

Deverell placed the crowbar firmly into Eustace's hand. Eustace stuck the crowbar in the narrow crack under the lid, then pried it open with deceptive ease. In the setting sun of a perpetual spring, a little glint caught the edges of the top few of hundreds of serrated steak knives in the box. The gleam was hypnotic to the crowds. Triumphantly, Deverell thrust his fist into the air. "Let the festivities begin!" he screamed.

With a hearty cheer, the crowd ran for the crate, and there were enough knives for everyone. Everyone took their knives, then brought them hard across their skin. There was a moment then where the party died, and everyone stared in wonder at their arms and hands. There was quiet then, hanging over the backdrop of a low murmur of wonder. Then noise erupted again: shouts and cheers and screams. The music broke through as the band struck up the tune, and the dancing began. Some danced with partners, some danced alone, and some danced only with their blades. They knew a new era was falling upon them, and in their excitement they plunged blindly into it.

Gannon, though, Gannon knew something was awry. He watched them from somewhat of a distance, warily. Junella, who had gone with the others, came running back to him, predictably. Her eyes had gone wide and wild, alight with a new fire that was not her own, the fire that belonged to the shared awe of the crowd. "Gannon!" she cried, "What ever did you mean by 'it wasn't fun'? It was incredible! I love it!" She flung herself onto him, smearing her blood in little flower patterns onto the back of his shirt.

"Okay," he said, laughing a little nervously. "Just be... careful, okay." He had to search for the word 'careful', not having a need for it often.

"Alright," she whispered, "I promise."

Meanwhile, Aislinn shared her son's doubts, and she leaned by the table, observing the crowd apathetically. On the other side of the table, Deverell walked right up and leaned right into her face. Aislinn's expression did not change, and her eyes still stared past him, into the throng now blocked from view by his head. "Darling..." he said coyly, "Don't be such a spoil sport. You always say we should try new things."

"Well this is a little different, isn't it?" she asked, still refusing to look into his eyes.

"Aislinn... please look at me," he pleaded her calmly. She didn't comply, so he asked her again. "Please?"

Now she did look at him, dead in the eyes, and he was startled by that subtle fierceness there, like the glare of a hawk. "What?" she snapped.

"I'm sorry," he said weakly, broken by that look.

Her look softened then, at the sight of his saddened brown eyes. "I'm sorry too, Love," she said softly.

Deverell bit his lip. "Won't you try it just once? For me?" He reached out and held her hands in his.

Reluctantly, Aislinn nodded. "Yeah, okay."

Deverell went, then brought her back the last remaining knife in the box. He laid it gently in her hand. Trembling, she lifted it, then held it against the nape of her wrist. "I'm scared," Aislinn whispered. The word was slowly becoming familiar to her.

"It's okay," Deverell assured her, "What's the worst that could happen? Just go for it."

So she did. She forced it down, hard, surprisingly so, in fact. Blood billowed up in curtains underneath the metal, and she screamed. Aislinn jerked the knife out, hard, and as she did you could see ivory bone for a moment or two before the flesh closed back together. Aislinn fell onto Deverell, hyperventilating and quivering.

Staring, Deverell said frantically. "Are you alright? Aislinn! Speak to me!"

Aislinn looked up at him, starry-eyed, and suddenly she smiled. "That was amazing, Dev..."

Deverell laughed a little. "I... I'm glad you think so."

She stepped back. "I'm gonna go get the refreshments, okay?" she asked. As she stood, blood snaked from her wound, across her draping palm and down her fingers to the ground.

"Yes, okay," he said, nodding rapidly. He felt relieved. He was glad she liked it. After seeing her eyes as they had been before, he wasn't sure what she would have done if she hadn't.

The sky began to go dark then, and one by one the stars turned on. Soon the familiar pure black of the Felicitaboran night reigned overhead. People danced merrily all around the fire, which had grown into a raging bonfire as the night pushed on and more blood spilled, painting the ground. The soil was like a carmine carpet. Laughing and singing intermingled with sobbing and screaming. Deverell and Aislinn danced close together. By then she had both wrists cut deep, and a few little ones along her arms. Aislinn sighed. "Hey Love... I feel strange..."

"What do you mean?" he inquired, still dancing her about.

"Well hold me still for a moment," she instructed him, and he did so. Even holding onto her, she wobbled unsteadily. "Wow... I know I'm not moving but... but..."

Deverell waited for the end of her statement. "Go on..." he coaxed her.

"It feels as though the whole world is still moving under me and around me," she said, "And... my head feels lighter than air." She emitted a small, giddy laugh. Deverell let go of her, and began to back away, but she staggered and swayed, so he latched right back onto her.

"Maybe you should sit down for awhile," Deverell recommended quietly.

"Yes," agreed Aislinn, "That's probably good. 'Til I catch my breath."

Into a chair, Deverell placed Aislinn down gently, and then he trotted about amongst the crowd.

Renshaw Quysner and his new wife Semira danced in graceful circles. They danced so well that many of the dancers around them backed off and clapped them on. The rhythm guided their feet, but they twirled and pirouetted straight into a rock. Renshaw's toes struck hard into the stone, and he gasped and lurched back. Quickly, he tore off his shoe and sock and observed his foot curiously. His first toe on his left foot was mangled, and tilted off to one side. When he tried to move his toes, the first toe would not, and a jolt of pain would surge through his veins. Renshaw looked up to everyone. "It's... it's that new feeling again."

With their careful notation, the townsfolk realized that it wasn't just knives that could bring pain upon them. They noted that they could probably harm themselves with just about anything. Another cheer arose into the air, and everyone went searching for stones to kick and beat. A headstrong experimenter took a bit of smoldering kindling from the bonfire's edge and pressed it upon himself. Within moments, many were reaching into the fire to burn themselves. The party was still very much a party to them, but would seem like mass chaos to anyone else.

Gannon had been dancing with Junella, but now they just stood watching everyone else. Even Junella was a little unsure of some of these new methods. From behind him, then, someone crept up and gripped him by the arm. "Hey!" Gannon shouted. Suddenly he felt himself being thrown to the ground. His arm struck against a jagged stone, hard. Pain burned up inside of him. Wailing, he blindly groped about and hugged Junella's knees.

"Hey everybody!" Gannon's assailant called back to the crowd, "You can hurt others too!" He ran back into the swarm as they all began to turn on each other.

Junella dropped down beside Gannon. "Are you alright!?"

Gannon shook his head. "I... I can't move my arm. It hurts." He shivered as tendons screamed at him.

Taking her beloved by the arm, Junella stood. "Come on... let's go inside... I don't like it out here anymore." They took their chance and made a break for the house, leaving the riot behind.

Meanwhile, by the fire, Deverell watched the destruction with a wild child-like grin. Exasperated by it all, he turned, seized Aislinn from where she'd been sleeping in her chair, and spun her around merrily. "Oh my Aislinn, isn't it wonderful?" He dipped her down, and in his arms she hung limp, like a child's rag doll, used and abused. Staring, Deverell shook her. "Aislinn?" She made no reply, so he laid her down on the ground, and all around the guests dropped their weapons and watched.

"Aislinn, honey," Deverell whispered into her ear, "Are you alright?"

Again, she said nothing, only laid there. Observing her, Deverell found that she was perfectly still. It was unlike sleeping, for even in sleep there is movement. Her chest didn't rise and fall with her breathing, and she never even twitched. Deverell felt all over her desperately, but couldn't find a single sign of movement. Not only that, but she was beginning to feel a little cold. Of course, Deverell didn't understand, he didn't understand at all. This was Felicitaboro, and everything was going to be okay.

He looked up at the crowd of slack-jawed gawkers. "Oh, go home!" he shouted at them. "I'm gonna bring her in for some rest and I'll tell you how she is in the morning." He waved them off. "Go home!"

Even in their rowdy state, the people of Felicitaboro knew enough to leave when they'd overstayed their welcome. Gradually they began to drip away. Eustace walked up to Deverell as he lifted Aislinn off the ground. "I hope she'll be okay," Eustace said.

Deverell gaped at him with a bit of horror. "What do you mean? Of course she'll be okay! Why wouldn't she be? What do you mean by 'I hope she'll be okay'!?" he yelped out breathlessly

Eustace only shook his head, and drifted away with the rest.

Through the night air, Deverell treaded carefully across the blood soaked and ransacked fields, cradling Aislinn close to him. He nudged open the screen door and let it bang shut behind him. Suddenly after all the festivities, the quiet disturbed Deverell like nothing else. He backed against the wall and flicked on a light with his shoulder. Gazing across the room, he spotted Junella creeping out. She stopped and stared like a frightened antelope.

"Well hello, Junella," Deverell greeted. "What's going on."

"Oh, um... I was bringing Gannon to bed. He's hurt pretty bad, he couldn't do it on his own," Junella explained. She spied the dangling form of Aislinn. "What's wrong with Mrs. Faustvic?"

"She... she's just a little hurt is all, she'll be fine," Deverell said, nodding rapidly.

Junella was highly unsure of that. "Alright..." she said, "Goodnight, Mr. Faustvic."

"Goodnight, Junella," he replied, then watched her go.

With the house silent again, Deverell slunk upstairs with his departed wife. Arriving in their bedroom, he laid her on the mattress, brought the sheets up over her softly and laid a sweet kiss down on her still lips. With that, he stripped down and climbed up beside her. He slept there with her nestled against him, and the only sound was his own breathing, and a few crickets outside that had escaped trampling or burning. He slept there holding her, and pleading and praying to a god he'd never known and never needed before in his life.

***

In the morning, the light caught Deverell's eyes. He yawned, stretched, and rose. His heart, though, fell down into his stomach when he saw Aislinn still lying there. "Good morning, love," he said quietly, hopefully. No reply fell upon his ears. He touched her, and she did not move. "Sh-sh-she'll... she'll get up..." Deverell told himself aloud. "She'll get up wh-when she wants to." Slowly Deverell got up, dressed, and headed out the room, keeping his eyes on Aislinn all the time.

As he crept downstairs, he hoped maybe she'd already prepared breakfast and gone back to sleep. When he got down there he found the house the same as he'd left it. He emitted a deep sigh and let it fall heavily, like lead. Someone had to cook, though, and he thought it might as well be him.

Upstairs, Gannon arose, squeaking with the pain in his arm that had kept him up for most of the night. He knew from experience through the night, though, that it hurt much less when it didn't move. Using this knowledge, he got up carefully, dressed cautiously, then took an extra shirt from the door and tied it around his arm and up over his neck, unwittingly fashioning a primitive sling. Downstairs he went, following the smell of food. Something was different though...

"Dad?" Gannon asked as he rounded the corner into the kitchen. "You're making breakfast today?"

"Yep," Deverell declared. He flipped the pancakes, then frowned. They were a little burned on one side. They'd still be edible, of course, but it wouldn't be the same.

Gannon, though, smiled, assuming things would be okay again. "Hah... that's nice. Where's mom?"

"She's sleeping," Deverell said. He set the table for two.

Smile fading, Gannon asked, "No dad, really, where's mom?"

"I told you, she's upstairs sleeping," Deverell said through his teeth, returning to his station at the frying pan.

"But..." started Gannon.

"She's upstairs sleeping!" Deverell screamed, pivoting quickly. His face went scarlet. "She's only sleeping, and she'll be down soon! Just let her get some goddamn fucking rest!" Those strong words arose from a deep and unused part of his vocabulary.

Reacting to tone and expression rather than words, Gannon cringed and backed up. "I... I'm sorry dad," he said softly.

Deverell suddenly realized how he had reacted. "No, no, no... I'm sorry. I... I don't know what's wrong with me." He paused and bit his lip. He didn't know how to break it to Gannon. "And I don't know what's wrong with your mother." He blurted.

For a stunned moment, Gannon was silent, then fleetingly he ran up the stairs, stumbling once, but clinging to the railing for balance. He ran for his parents' bedroom. "Mother!" he called to her, "Mom!"

"Gannon, get down here!" Deverell screamed to him. "I don't want you to see her!"

It was too late. Gannon had just barely skidded around the corner into the bedroom and saw his mother lying there in a deep pool of drying blood. It soaked all the sheets, the pillows, and caked into her platinum blonde hair. Her arms, horrifically scarred, were splayed in front of her, almost as though in prayer.

"Mom?" Gannon whispered.

Deverell scrambled up behind Gannon. He, too, stared in at Aislinn as though this was the first time he'd seen her this way.

Slowly, Gannon turned to Deverell. "She's not gonna wake up again, is she?" he asked as his eyes welled up with tears.

"No," Deverell said bluntly, stubborn and childlike. He shoved Gannon without a second thought. "You're wrong, you're wrong." He stormed downstairs, rattling the house as he went.

Gannon leaned out over the banister, watching him. "Dad, wait!"

"You're wrong!" Deverell screamed up to Gannon. With a bang, the door shut, and Gannon's father was gone.

***

Gannon's original intent in taking a walk was to put his mind at ease. While the streets of Felicitaboro themselves were still quiet and relaxing, indoors he could see the violence. Silhouettes beat on each other; bloodstained windows seemed to belong to some morbid cathedrals; battered pets hid on roofs and under dumpsters, or dangled dead from trees. With every step, a little chill went down Gannon's spine.

Up ahead, manic laughter bubbled, and a girl shrieked, "Leave my baby brother alone! Get off him! Off!" And there was a child crying.

Gannon would know those voices anywhere. He sprinted headlong down the road. At the corner by the school, a group of teenage boys had a hold of Siddell, beating him. Helpless, Junella could only stand back and scream.

Acting quickly, Gannon picked up a fair sized stone and pegged it at the head of the largest boy. The stone served its purpose and took the boy out, and the others scattered like startled rabbits. Junella ran in and snatched Siddell into her arms. Little Siddell sobbed onto his sister's shoulder, leaving spots from his bloody nose. Gannon crouched down beside the two. "You alright, little guy?" Gannon asked. Siddell just nodded meekly.

"Thank God you showed up, Gannon," Junella said. "I was scared they were gonna do something awful to him."

"They were," Gannon muttered bitterly.

He felt a drip, and thought that Junella was crying on him, but when he looked into her face, he found that her eyes were dry. Looking up, he saw that the sky had gone a sick, pallid shade of gray. Little by little and building up, drips of water began to fall from the sky. They were cold, wet, and very foreign in this place. Junella and Siddell stared up too, and everywhere people started coming out of their houses to watch the sky.

Junella clung to Gannon's sleeve. "Gannon... what's happening to this place?"

Never taking his eyes off the sky, he said, "You're asking me?"

***

Deverell could care less about the rain and the sky. After Gannon left, he'd come back in and had since been sitting next to Aislinn, waiting for her to stir. It had been about a half an hour then. Never did she move or breathe, but Deverell waited by her all the same.

Downstairs, the pancakes blackened and burned.

***

Gannon had headed on home for shelter and food, so Junella headed for home as well. She took a little shortcut, across a field and through some woods. It never failed to get her home faster. As she moved into the woods, water drizzled down on her heavily, water that had built up in the leaves of the trees. She took off her little jean jacket and held it over her head to guard her from the rain.

Junella always loved it in the woods, always so quiet and peaceful. It seemed even more so now, away from the chaos in the streets. Siddell had gone to stay with a friend, and so she was alone, and for now she liked it that way. She listened to the woodland sounds.

Drip. Drip. Drip. Rustle. Drip. Rustle. Snap. Crunch. Crunch. Crunch.

A hand suddenly wrapped itself around her thin arm and twisted it violently backward. She screamed, and then another hand cupped itself about her lips. She writhed and wriggled desperately, weeping like the skies were with her fear. Sharply into her ear, a voice whispered, "Your sweetheart isn't here to help you now, baby." With that, he threw her down and stripped her naked.

"Leave me alone," she sobbed, feebly holding out her hands, like she thought that would stop him.

"You'd like that, wouldn't you?" he laughed. Without another word, he took her.

***

Gannon had barely saved the house from burning down when he got home. Not knowing what else to do for food, he scrounged in the cupboards and found some cereal. Sitting down at the table that had been set for two, Gannon sat alone. He poured out the corn flakes, retrieved some milk from the fridge, then ate quietly, shutting out the world around him; this was hard, with the rain outside, and his father's sobbing from upstairs.

His breakfast done, Gannon headed out, away from his house and the sadness inside.

***

8:00 AM. It had been 12 hours since Deverell had last seen Aislinn move. Finally, he gave up his desperate grip on hope. He finally knew that his beloved Aislinn Lee Rieke-Faustvic would never live again. He gathered her up in his arms, solemn but dry-eyed. With a leisurely, rigid stride, he carried her. He carried her down the stairs. He carried her through the foyer. He carried her out the door, down the steps, then laid her down in the field. Underneath the rain, he knelt by his wife's body and let out a long, anguished scream at the sky. He just kept screaming.

***

Gannon meandered up to Junella's house. He headed there, because Junella was where happiness was. He detoured off the street to the woodland trail. His skin bristled with goose bumps in the cold, and he stood in the drenched meadow and marveled at them for awhile. Soon enough, they no longer were of interest to him, and he pressed on. He headed on into the wood, and slipped on some slick leaves. Tumbling over and down into a ditch, he got scuffed and muddy. It was unpleasant, but he pushed on. He needed his Junella like nothing else in the world at the moment. He needed her positive vibes, needed her to hold him and reassure him. He needed her soft red hair to snuggle against, needed her warmth against him. He tripped again and fell face-first into a deep mud puddle. Quickly he pulled himself up, spitting out mud and pawing it out of his face and eyes. He sat himself up, then his eyes fell on what he had tripped on.

Junella lie there, muddy, bloody, and naked. She was slashed up and beaten very badly, one arm broken and twisted off in an odd direction. Her eyes stared past Gannon, blankly into space. They were foggy glass marbles set in her face. Gannon recognized the look about her. "Oh my love," he whimpered like a wounded puppy, then fell upon her, sobbing. In some places, his tears washed her clean.

***

Gannon carried Junella home through the streets. He'd washed her clean in the brook, dried her off with the shirt off his back, and put her back in her clothes. He carried her through the soggy streets, with hundreds of eyes staring at him. Finally, at the edge of town, he found home, and his father crying. Gannon watched him with an eerie calm, vision blurred with tears and rain.

Feeling a presence, Deverell lifted his head. "You were right," he whispered.

Lightning split the sky, and while people in the streets screamed at the sight of it, Gannon and Deverell were lost in their own world, with their lost loves.

"Junella too?" Deverell asked weakly.

Gannon simply nodded.

Putting his arm around his son's shoulder, Deverell said, "Why don't you lay her down by your mother... then I wanna talk to you inside."

Again, Gannon nodded. He set Junella down gently and kissed her forehead. Arms around each other, Deverell and Gannon marched in.

Inside the warmth and comfort of the home, strangely lacking today, Deverell sat his son down on the couch, then stood in front of him. For a moment, Deverell just stood there, straight-faced, but suddenly his expression broke. He smiled with a bitter, dry humor behind fresh tears, and laughed heartlessly. "This is my fault."

"No dad," Gannon said quietly, "Don't say th..."

"Yes it is!" snapped Deverell, interrupting him. "I brought this on our world. I made this new world. I'm going to fix it."

"Dad... can you?" Gannon asked the hard question, "Can you fix it?"

A few moments hung on a silence, delicately. Finally, Deverell said with grim determination, "I'm going to try."

"It's not going to bring mom back, you know," Gannon said softly. "Or my Junella." He held back another brink of tears.

Deverell turned away from Gannon. "I know... I know..."

"So what are we gonna do?" asked Gannon.

Laughing, Deverell said, "What are we gonna do? What are you gonna do is more like it."

"What!?" Gannon shouted in shock. "What about you?"

"I'm too weary," Deverell murmured, staring at his feet.

"What, and I'm not?" asked Gannon, offended. He gaped at his father.

"Gannon, please..." Deverell put his hands on his son's shoulders. "I want you to leave Felicitaboro. I want you to leave this place, I want you to find happiness again, and I want you to bring it back before it's too late."

Gannon marveled. No one in town had ever left it since it had separated itself from civilization. Adrenaline pumped through his blood.

"Are you ready?" Deverell inquired as he stood over him like a military general.

"As ready as I'll ever be," Gannon replied. Rising from his seat, he went and grabbed a bag, then packed it up with food, bottled water, and clothes; he took only the essentials. He packed it all as fast as he could and was on the doorstep, ready to go, in fifteen minutes. Deverell strode over to Gannon. For a few minutes, they merely smiled at each other. Then they grappled each other in a strong father-son hug. They stayed like that for a few moments, then Deverell backed up, sniffled, and observed his son with pride. "God be with you, my son," he said.

"I love you, dad," said Gannon. He gave him a little grin, then was gone.

In the fields, he walked over to Aislinn and Junella. He knelt by them and kissed their dead hands. "I love you mom, Junie... I'll make you proud, I promise."

***

It was rough going on the mountain. Surrounding the plateau which housed Felicitaboro was a barren wasteland, like a desert almost, but more like a beach without water. Down the mountain, the rocks were wet. Gannon slipped and cut himself, time and time again. He rested frequently, and used up an entire bottle of water in a very short time. Sometimes the sorrow unburied itself again, and he had to curl up and cry. The cold out here alone seemed magnified, he shivered heavily, and his teeth clacked together like castanets. As the sun went down, he felt he should rest for the night. He found a little flat place and rolled out his sleeping bag. He lay underneath the stars, watching them. Rest never came, overshadowed by his fear of the unknown.

***

As the sun went down in Felicitaboro, the rain trickled off. Deverell sat on the couch, reading, his only company the silence in the house. Each page turned seemed loud enough to split his ears. Speaking of splitting, some unanticipated emptiness split him down the middle inside. He felt a yearning pulling him apart, a neediness, primal and childlike. He rose up, and followed his loneliness out the door. He crept into the night, then laid himself out in the field by his wife's body and held her close, whispering nothings into ear, which was about what they were worth; nothing.

***

In the dark, Gannon laid there alone. Like his father, he too was torn up by the cold, frozen fingers of desolation. His stomach ached and growled, and not from a hunger for food but a hunger for company. As he tossed and turned, he felt a tickle across his hand. He raised his hand up to his face, and as his fingers adjusted to the light, he noticed a little caterpillar there. It was tiny and bright acid green. Gannon smiled, and laid it down on the ground. Company was here. He promptly fell asleep.

***

As the rays of morning sun pried open his eyes, Gannon found his caterpillar still there, crawling about beside him. He sat up, stretched, yawned, then let the little critter crawl up onto his finger. He smiled at it fondly. "There's still some good in the world..." he murmured, then set the caterpillar on his elbow and set off.

The rock was somewhat drier today, and he fell less often. A cool breeze licked at the locks of his ebony hair. His caterpillar crawled eagerly around his arms and shoulders. Every step forward was a step away from all the madness at home. Every step forward was a relief.

He leaned over a ledge and looked down. Lying on a blanket, watching the sky, a young couple from down below tussled playfully with each other. A picnic was strewn out beside them. At some point they stopped wrestling and started smacking lips. Watching them, a few crisp tears sprung to Gannon's face. He was reminded of his sweet Junella and the day before life went to hell. He remembered lying with her and watching the sky go by like these two people below. His heart warmed up like coals in a fire. Suddenly his head snapped up towards the sky as the shock of discovery shot up through him, striking inside the top of his head and throwing it backward. He knew. He knew what it was that happiness was. He had known forever but never realized it. Happiness was his mother and father. Happiness was Junella. Happiness was all his friends. Happiness may well be his caterpillar too. Happiness was all the people you love and cherish. Happiness was in love, and not hate. That was all. That was all they needed, without ever having to spice things up. "That's it!" he screamed, and went scrambling up the mountain to get home as fast as possible. The couple below stared curiously up at the ledge where Gannon used to be.

***

It took Gannon a day and a half to go down the mountain, and only a day to make it back up. He rested outside the wasteland that night for an hour or two, and once he had his breath again, he marched on through.

In time, though, he came upon Semira Hoynoski-Quysner. She was running, breathlessly, along the trail. By the look on her face it seemed she was ready to pass out, but unwillingly she pushed herself along, panting and wheezing pitifully.

Curiously, Gannon called out, "Mira, are you alright? Do you need to rest or something? Come on, you can sit with me for awhile."

Frantically she shook her head. "No, no, no! I need more exercise, I need to loose weight."

This was so ridiculous to Gannon that he laughed quite heartily. "What are you talking about?" he scoffed, "You're in fine shape, Mira! Don't be so hard on yourself..."

"I'm not good enough!" she replied sharply, then pushed along, away from Gannon, and he watched her, wondering what those awful people in town had told her to make her feel so awful, to shatter her self image like a delicate glass ornament. He would come back to her later, give her the care he needed, but he needed to get back to his father and home. So onward Gannon went. Semira, though, was not the last person he would encounter. Out in the hot sand and glaring sun, Odelette Czupryna lie basking in the sun in nothing but her bikini. If you could call it basking, with the agonized expression on her face.

"Mrs. Czupryna..." Gannon addressed politely. "Ain't it rather hot to be lyin' around in the sand? You're gonna get sunburned."

Odelette propped herself up and offered a weak smile. "No... I just need to tan myself. I'm much too pale. I'm getting pasty."

"You look fine," Gannon assured her. "And you could probably hurt your skin that way or something..."

"No," retorted Odelette stubbornly. "I don't look good enough. I'm just not good enough."

Gannon took off running without another word. Something was terribly, terribly wrong. People were acting so weird here. The very fibers of their existence as they had known it ripped at the seams. In the distance, he could see groups of people standing solemnly in the sand, casting the dead into a deep hole. The dead appeared to be Zuleika Micelotta and her unborn baby. The ritual made Gannon sick to his stomach, to just cast their bodies into the ground like that. It never occurred to him that bodies rot.

A long stretch later and the sun began to go down, the village still not in sight. Up ahead, though, he could see a cluster of his friends. He ran for them. "Hey! Guys! I'm back!"

They glared upon him, and when he stopped in their midst, they threw him aside. "Fuck off, twig," muttered one of them, Kailas, Gannon's former best friend.

Gannon stared. "Wh... what? What did I do?"

"You're not good enough for us," piped another from the side. Away they strode, coolly, coldly, leaving Gannon there behind them.

Hurt, Gannon scrabbled to his feet and called them. "What's wrong with you!? Did you forget what we mean to each other!?" He ran after them. "We said we were brothers! We said we always would be, what about that? What about-?"

"Oh, shut up!" barked Kailas, taking one big swing of his fist into Gannon's stomach. Gannon swung back, gushing out air, and collapsed into a little ball. After kicking Gannon in the ribs a few times, the boys laughed it all off and moved on their merry way. With a quiet sob, Gannon sat up, shuddering at the aching resonating pain of the bruises he got. For a moment or two, he lost the will to make it back home. He felt he could lie here forever, and no one would care. He felt the only loss of self-esteem he would ever feel in his life. Then he looked to the north, and in that distance, he could see them throw his mother's body into the hole, and Junella right in on top of her, and everything came rushing back. Gannon rose up tall and marched for home.

He marched up as he crested the last sand dune before catching site of Felicitaboro, then his marching fell to a stop. In the city, large fires lit the sky like day, waving cheerfully and welcoming Gannon home. "Oh God," Gannon squeaked, "I gotta save this place."

Then he ran, and ran the whole way home, right onto Twayblade Street and down Herring Lane to home. "Dad!" he screeched at the top of his lungs, "I've got it! I've got it! I can save us now! Dad, I'm home!" Omitting the walk to the gate, Gannon simply jumped the fence and ran breathlessly across the fields, where buzzards pecked at leftover bits of human skin and blood. "Dad! Everything's gonna be okay now! I'm home!" He burst through the front door. "Dad, where are you!?" he shouted.

In the low light cast by the burning houses outside, Gannon caught sight of a sprinkling of red on the living room wall. "No..." he whispered desperately. "Not here, not now..."

His feet left the foyer and he scampered through the kitchen into the living room. On the floor, Deverell lie crumpled up, half-dried blood pasted across his hair and face. Kneeling down, Gannon could see a little ensanguined hole in his father's head, circled by little ruffles of torn and ruptured skin. Now with experience, Gannon could recognize dead when he saw it, and he saw it here. "Dad, no," he sobbed. "No... you can't do this to me." He cried there over his father's body for a few minutes, forgetting everything he'd done. His eyes then grazed down to Deverell's hands, which he hadn't even looked at before. In one hand was his father's pistol. In Felicitaboro, pistols had only ever been used for sport, but these were new times. Gannon could scarce believe his father had done this to himself. He knew Deverell had been broken, but never realized he was this broken. Then in the other hand Gannon spied a note. Carefully, he picked it up and unrolled it. The message was simple, but screaming loud and clear. It read, "This is my fault and I can't take it anymore. I'm just not good enough for this world."

It all came rushing back, the strange actions of the people he knew, and the mission he had intended to complete here. The motivation was stronger. "I'll do you proud, dad," he said, determined, and rose and left, all the while wondering why everyone seemed to feel they weren't good enough. What weren't they good enough for? What could possibly be better than themselves?

Gannon went out into the streets, trying to find someone to tell. It was a beautiful night, the fires were dying, and it should be okay to walk the streets now, but everyone was shut up inside now. A strange colorful glow fell out of every window.

From behind then, a mysterious assailant who would never be identified pounced upon Gannon from behind. He got a good tight grip on Gannon, who was struggling and screaming, and drove a blade deep into Gannon's liver. Gannon fell screaming onto the dirt road as the attacker ran away laughing, his senseless act of violence done. Trembling, Gannon was able to rise up to his knees. Blood flowed like a waterfall out of his open wound. He held up a hand against it, but it was no use. It bled on anyway. Gannon crawled up to a window, seeking answers for all this. He held himself up feebly on a windowsill, dying. He gazed inside to find the cause for all this madness, someone to tell his discovery to. When he looked inside, though, he knew it was much too late. These people were beyond help, and nothing he could tell them now would save them. Their minds and souls were lost and changed forever.

They were lost because the people of Felicitaboro had discovered television.

 

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