A small pale faced figure stands, enshrouded in darkness, while a hauntingly sweet song softly echoes through the cave.
“There’ll be days
see them sunning
by the bay
till, the sea
sees the star light,
Somewhere in this sightless void a larger form slumbers. Moans of agony pass this man’s parched parted lips. Tears moisten his painfully swollen face. The stench of sweat, *****, feces, and fetid breath fill the air around him. An alarm sounds as the last battery from the compact heater finally dies. Sloan shivers as the temperature within the cave begins to drop.
Mother mercy watches with a well-practiced stare of concern. She slides a thin, torn, and brown stained sheet over Sloan’s shuddering body. It does little to comfort the sick man. His ragged breaths slowly shift to slightly less raggedy breaths. Mother Mercy watches for a few more moments to make sure that he will not die, then settles down in a corner for the night.
Electric dreams of long ago float in the forefront of her mind. A bone thin boy of barely teenage years stumbles into a broken-down building that was once the Canadian Gazette. Stray rays of light from an overhead window brighten the small room, illuminating gun black filing cabinets, and dark wooden cubbies, colored with well-worn grey paint, which hold crumbled bits of old newspapers; One of the papers read, “Mass Methane Leak Poisons Ground Water and Air”. Each step stirs up dust causing him to cough. Mother mercy can hear the congestion in his cough and see the fever in his scarlet flushed face. His eyes are a rabid red flitting left to right, searching for any sign of danger. A loud noise causes him to flinch. Mother Mercy moves forward, trying to speak to the boy, but like a doe sensing danger he prepares to dart.
She finds her voice. “Please. Do not leave. I can help you.” She pleads mechanically.
He moves forward, tentatively attempting to touch her. She can see a sharp scar that runs from under his right eye down to his thick dry cracked lips. He tries to speak, exposing his yellow and browning teeth and the many gaps therein.
Suddenly, daggers of light push past and through his young body. He does not cry out, but merely succumbs to disintegration. Then……
Then Mother Mercy awakens to a new morning. Waves of light bring the cavern to life.
Sunshine moves in and across the cave to expose uneven earth, and a dirt encrusted cave wall, which is oddly void of any insect life. Her hazel eyes quickly adjust to the oncoming onslaught of daylight. Once again, she checks the man to make sure he is alive. Sloan’s chest rises and falls in an unsteady rhythm, which is all she can really hope for.
She slides dark brown locks of long hair out of her eerily symmetrical face. She brushes the dust off her tattered tan coat, and her holey faded jeans. With a couple of rapid sweeping motions, she removes almost all the dirt, and pebbles from the breast of her inner shirt.
Off to the left of the cave, and still covered by shadows a small machine awaits her inspection. She examines each tube, cord, and gauge with a military proficiency. Then using the jury-rigged straps, she places the machine on her back. Heading out of the cave, Mother Mercy stops, picks up the batteries from the small heating device, and checks Sloan one more time. Finally, with her bare feet fully outside she sets off for the day’s labor.
The sky burns a bright orange interrupted by barely perceptible vapors of methane, and bluish grey cotton clouds. Despite the splendor of the morning there is nothing but silence; No dogs barking, or bees buzzing about their honey making business. There is no life to be found except for minor patches of multi-colored fauna that are randomly situated along her route. So, Mother Mercy breaks the silence with a song.
“There’ll be years
as we stumble
towards our graves,
but the seconds
are what make
this life so great,”
A few miles along the way, she stops singing, and begins to check the tiny traps she has planted along her daily path. Each carefully constructed device is sadly empty. Three or four more hours after that the silence evaporates and she can hear a small stream of water running. She stops and stares down at her bare feet.
“There is something I forgot to put on my feet.” She queries to herself while continuing to walk.
A few moments pass as she puzzles out the minor mystery. Once she makes it to the edge of the stream, an awkward smile fills her tiny round face. Mother Mercy removes the machine from her back, letting it fall to the ground. It makes a loud thud and sinks several inches into the slightly softened earth. In a movement so swift human eyes could barely perceive it, she jumps up, rising several feet in the air while crossing a considerable distance, and finally lands in the stream. Soft sizzles sound from her bare feet, as she slowly grinds them into the mud. Then Mother Mercy sloshes sloppily out of the water wearing a thick layer of dark brown mud on her feet.
“Of course, how could I forget. I need mud to cool my feet.”
She walks back to the machine, pulls it out of the ground with ease, and returns to the stream. Next, she submerges the device. Waiting till it is completely full of water, she pulls it out, and begins fiddling with knobs and switches. She waits as the water boils, completely evaporates, filters, cools, and finally condensates back into liquid. Deftly, she removes one of the filters and shakes out all the unknown particulates. Then she opens a tiny compartment, and places a small sensor device within in the water to check its quality. After a satisfactory reading she places the water filtration system back on her back and heads down a different path.
The mud on Mother Mercy’s feet dries; Dark brown shades lighten, crust up and chip off in little flakes. Irritated, she begins to slide her feet through the almost nonexistent foliage to scrape off the remainder of the drying mud. With each small patch of grass Mother Mercy moves her feet faster and faster. Her left foot flows back and forth with incredible speed and strength. There is a loud clink and a chipped piece of rock soars across the air.
In puzzlement, Mercy stares down at her foot and finds that it has split open. Red and black fluid streams from the seam of torn skin, which expands and exposes metallic bone. As she moves, the wire insulation from within her foot ruptures, revealing cheap copper conductor. The hot metal sparks, lighting up the methane in the air. A scorching white, orange, and bluish outlined fireball expands with enough force to launch Mother Mercy up and back off her feet.
She hits the ground hard, and curses,” ******* methane!”
White synthetic skin begins to melt, shifting and swirling into grotesque shapes, and darker shades of red. Mother Mercy rises, unsteadily. Wincing in pain, she unloads her heavy water filter burden. Again, she checks all the tubes, cords, and gauges. What was once a thing of ease now becomes quite burdensome. She places the filter system on her back again, and resumes her journey. The red and black liquid continues to leak. Each steps becomes slower than the last. Until, she reaches her destination. Mother Mercy collapses next to a series of solar panels. With what little strength she has left, she detaches one of the charged batteries. A look of distress crosses her already agonized face.
“I’m sorry.” She softly sobs to herself. “I need this one.”
Mercy pulls a flap of skin from the right side of her waist. An intricate maze of wires, metal, and fake flesh pulsates. Her hand plunges deep within the slimy cavity, twists, and removes a damaged battery. It is bent, and cracked leaking a thick acid liquid which viciously burns her hand. She tosses it aside then slips the unbroken battery inside the cavity, twists it, waits for the click, then removes her acid, and viscous liquid covered hand.
The synthetic skin slowly starts to unburn, shifting in reverse till it returns to its previously pristine quality. Her foot begins to pop and all the parts snap back into their original place as the split skin slowly stiches itself back together.
Mercy harvests the rest of the charged batteries and places the used ones in their charging slots. Finally, with the days labors done she heads back to the cave.
Once she is at the cave she washes a stray rag. Then cleans her hands. Cradling Sloan, she slowly serves him some water. Once he has had his fill. She gently rolls him on his side moves his shirt up searching for any sores, then proceeds to softly scrub them. She rolls him in the opposite direction and repeats the process. Then she checks his inner thighs, and **** cheeks. Sloan winces in pain but remains quiet. She gently lays him back, and rolls up his pant legs, washing the bare skin which is littered with more nasty sores. She finishes by washing his face, hands, and his feet. Finally, she sends him to sleep with a sweet song
“and the children
that we leave
full grown sons
are like blooms
that lose their trees
as our roots
wither and flee.”
Mother Mercy is consumed by an unnatural fatigue. She resists slumber for a few minutes, but inevitably succumbs. Everything becomes nothingness, then changes to nothingness with dizzy brown spots. Yellow sparks split from the tip of her consciousness. The darkness dissolves and becomes the cave again. Small streams of water worm their way in from the cracks on the wall, which seems to breath unevenly. Suddenly she realizes the cave stinks like sewage. Fresh wind works its way in then blows out a stark stench of rot. Each exhale sounds like a human moaning in pain. The last flickers of light die a long-protracted death.
A wheezing breath stirs Mother Mercy from her dreams. She awakens quickly to see Sloan gasping violently. She rushes to his side, and sees a thick yellow and greenish gooey fluid mixed with blood sliding down the side of his jaw. With her left arm she flips him over holds his upper body inches off the ground, wipes away the disgusting fluid, and checks the abscess with her free hand.
“Spit it out.” She pleads.
Sloan continues to gasp. Tears swell but refuse to fall.
“Pleebees, helpep, me.” He struggles, coughing violently.
Mother Mercy cradles him in her arms, singing,
“Till, the song
that I am singing
becomes the song
that they passed on
and the love
that I was bringing
are the wheels
that just roll on.”
Sloan, gasps and wheezes for several minutes more. Tears and sweat fill his face.
“Mob where’s my mob?” He cries between gasping breaths.
Two hours later slumber finally reclaims Sloan. An hour after that Mercy gently places his pained body back into its original position. After another half an hour she to surrenders to sleep. She sees nothing.
A stern voice commands,” **** the enemy.”
Mercy cries in response, “There are no more enemies.”
Mother Mercy awakens to a new morning. Once again, she checks the man to make sure he is alive. Sloan’s chest rises and falls. She wipes off a spot of pus and blood left over from last night’s abscess leakage. The swelling has slightly receded, but his face is still feverishly warm to the touch. She switches out one drained battery from the heater for a fully charged one then grabs the water filter, and heads off to start the day’s labor, singing.
that I lived on.
I know you won’t
miss me one bit
but I was grateful
to call you home.”