Chapter Six

Chapter Six

A Chapter by Jooolie
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No Reason to Fear

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        Aimee casually read from the morning’s New York Times. Her visible breath flew into the air and gracefully blended with the other thousand small clouds that exited other mouths in the surrounding crowd. The paper’s forecast claimed pleasant warmer weather for the week, news Aimee found strange for the holiday season. This morning fit the prediction, and Aimee wondered whether the clear skies were the cause for the large turnout in the park, rather than the scheduled press conference from Senator Slayter. She could not help but hope it was.
    “Can you believe this?” Ellizabeth fumed beside her. A pair of blue and pink-colored striped knitted mittens covered her delicate hands as they tucked under her arms to form a pouting stature. “Two months have gone by since Cresig even mentioned the chemicals and Slayter just now decides to call a conference!”
    “It says here that he thought the holidays would bring in a bigger crowd,” Aimee answered casually as she pointed to a spot on the paper’s front page.
    “Merry Christmas,” Darwin muttered sarcastically from Aimee’s other side, his eye squinting into his camera lens as he adjusted the angle of its tripod. “I guess even jolly ol’ Saint Nick can’t stop people from talking about the disease.”
    Ellizabeth growled, stamping her snow-covered yellow boots in frustration as she hugged herself tighter against the cold. “Well, Slayter’s wrong!” she snapped. “He’s not helping anything by talking now! He’s preparing the entire city for an uproar over the holiday!”
    “I suppose we’ll find out soon,” Aimee added quietly, tucking a strand of red hair behind her ear. “I guess this wasn’t really the Christmas in New York City you expected, Elli,” she finished with an apologetic tone.
    “Do you think Cresig’s here yet?” Ellizabeth whined impatiently, shaking away the previous conversation.
    “Elli, you’ve been asking the same question every five minutes since we got here!” Darwin sighed, lowering his camera from his eye in order to face Ellizabeth directly. “I’m sure he and Lora are here somewhere, just give them time. They’ll be here!” Darwin shook his head as he scanned the crowd for the two. He had grown accustomed to seeing Lora around campus, but an ounce of fear crossed his mind at the thought of being associated with Cresig. He slowly fixed his gaze on Slayter’s guards as they covered both sides of the nearby stage. Darwin could not help but wonder if they knew of Cresig’s plan; if their stern looks across the audience were actually meant to find the conspirator and, by association, to find him too.
    “Well, there’s Ian,” Aimee pointed toward the familiar figure approaching them, then closed her paper and folded it under her arm. She remembered the get-together, just a few brief nights before, at Ian’s bar. It was the one time in the past few months that she had forgotten the worry and fear of the disease that rested permanently in the back of her mind. The group was sitting around a small table when she noticed the news of the press conference spread across the television screen in the corner of the bar. Aimee had immediately hoped Slayter would solve everything and simply prove the whole disease to be false; but she had thought back to the night she met Cresig and her hope in the senator vanished just as soon as it had come. She shook away the memory and put on a fake smile as Ian approached the group.
    “Hey, sorry I’m late,” he waved weakly as he stopped to catch his breath. “I’ve been looking all over for you.”
    “How many places are there to look when I tell you we’re in front of the podium?” Darwin joked, patting the bartender on the back.
    “Yeah, yeah,” Ian muttered, rubbing his gloved hands together for warmth. He acknowledged the two girls with a casual nod, then looked curiously at Ellizabeth as her eyes glared up at the empty podium. “Hey, El, you all right there?”
    “How can they not be here?” Ellizabeth mumbled as her narrowed blue eyes scanned the crowd that stretched across the park.
    Darwin shut his camera screen with a quick snap. “They’ll be here, El!” he growled. “The conference isn’t supposed to start for a few more minutes anyway.”
    Ellizabeth frowned and took a few steps away from the group, stopping under a large Maple tree to lean against its trunk. “How could they not be here yet?” she said quietly, more to herself than anyone. “They must have heard about the conference. It’s been in the news for a week!”
    “You know, you really should relax,” a familiar voice said behind her. Ellizabeth turned in relief to see Lora, who casually hoisted her petite frame up onto one of the tree’s branches. “Central Park’s pretty big. You didn’t think it would take a few minutes to find you?”
    Darwin raised one blonde eyebrow as he, Aimee, and Ian approached Lora’s perch. “I told you,” he mouthed at Ellizabeth, who rolled her eyes and placed herself in the tree beside Lora.
    “You must be the botany student Darwin told me about,” Ian beamed up at Lora, his large white smile glistening, as he leaned against the Maple tree.
    “Right, this is Lora,” Darwin answered immediately, giving a shy wave to the girl.
    “Enchanté,” Ian answered, playfully placing Lora’s hand in his and giving it a quick kiss.
    Ellizabeth groaned in disgust from beside the botanist. “Where’s Cresig?” she asked Lora impatiently as she lightly kicked Ian’s stomach with one of her boots.
    “I’m not sure, he said he would meet me here in time,” Lora answered simply as she smiled and pulled her hand back from Ian.
    Ellizabeth nodded. “Do you think he’s at his broth-”
    “Most likely,” Lora answered quickly, adding a sharp tone before Ellizabeth had the chance to say too much. After a moment, she returned a casual grimace to her face. “So whatdya think Slayt’s going to say? I can’t believe he’d be able to even breathe without knowing something is terribly wrong around here!”
    Aimee nodded slowly. In the past week, she had heard rumors of illness in other areas of the world. Though she knew there was no release of any proof linking them to the disease, Aimee found herself reluctant to inhale. A sharp sting in her chest had recently started to accompany her breathing and it forced her mind into a panic, but Aimee refused to give the pain too much credit. She shook away an upcoming sting and recollected herself. “It’s getting worse.”  She answered numbly. For a brief moment, her eyes fixed on Darwin. She was beginning to fear this disease and for a flash, she swore she saw the same thought on his face.
    “Eh, Slayter probably still thinks he’s more powerful than any disease, that stubborn jackass. But I mean, it’d be kind of hard to see all you’ve worked for go up in smoke over a natural disaster, harder still if your life work is part of the disaster,” Ian smiled in an attempt to lighten the mood. “Then again, he’s still a politician, he’ll say whatever he wants. Who am I to try and dig into his head?”
    “A normal person, that’s who,” Darwin muttered in frustration. “I still don’t know what he thinks he’ll accomplish today. All we’ve heard are a few cases of lung illnesses. That doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world! Why would he come out and speak over something that’s still essentially a rumor?”
    “Darwin, stop,” Aimee scolded, bracing herself for a response from Lora as she noticed the small girl beginning to tense up.
    “All he’s doing is scaring people,” Darwin finished quickly before either Lora or Aimee could interrupt. He paused and the silence prepared Aimee for someone else to strike a blow.
    “The people have been scared for a while already,” Lora answered calmly, her voice lightly topped with an icy tone.
    “Have you found anything yet?” Darwin asked as he inched closer to Lora.
    “Nothing.”
    “Do you think he’ll disprove it today?”
    “I don’t know!” Lora jumped out of the tree in frustration. Her gloomy, dark eyes gazed out over the crowd as she regained composure. “He’ll do whatever he wants to get his plan through.” She turned back to the group as Ian gently placed a hand on her shoulder.
    “People want to be reassured,” he added quietly. “This guy gives them that reassurance, and at the easiest price.”
    “The easiest price?” Lora fumed as she stormed away from Ian’s grasp. “He’s lying! Don’t they realize that?”
    The group paused a moment as the crowd began to cheer for the man approaching the podium.
    “I’m sorry,” Darwin said quietly, his voice barely audible over the shouting, as he walked closer to Lora. He caught a glimpse of her saddened expression before she managed to swallow back her emotions and return a straight line to her face. The look immediately made Darwin regret that he sparked the conversation.
    “College Boy Darwin!” a voice chuckled behind him. He and Lora both turned to see Cresig approach the group, his arms spread wide as he passed through the crowd, ignoring the looks of shock aimed at his face as he walked by. “I hoped we would see you here,” he grinned at Darwin and Aimee as he swung an arm around each of them.
    “I was beginning to think you’d never show,” Darwin answered numbly, an apologetic look spread across his face as he watched Lora stand next to her co-worker.
    “Even I couldn’t miss this,” Cresig’s laughter was cut off by a sudden tap on the podium’s microphone. The group looked up to see James Slayter motion for silence from the crowd. His jagged face tilted high in the air and his piercing eyes scanned across the audience as he braced the podium.
    “Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen,” his heavy, deep voice boomed from the speakers. “My most sincere apologies for bringing you out here today on the holidays. I am here to approach this poison dioxide situation. For the past two months, this news has carried through the city and, for your comfort, I will cut to the chase and proudly announce that this so-called ‘disease’ is entirely impossible and untrue.”
    “Just as I expected,” Cresig muttered to Darwin as the crowd erupted in applause. “I wonder what his team came up with.”
    “The New York government has been working with the best scientific minds in the nation for weeks,” Slayter continued, “and the conclusion has been made unanimously to denounce every bit of information related to the theory.”
    “Well that’s convincing,” Cresig smirked. “He’ll need more than that.” He turned to Lora and looked at her in reassurance. “Even Slayter can’t win over a crowd by being that vague.”
    “You all have no reason to fear, and this great city should be proud of the good work your elected officials are doing to serve you all,” Slayter gleamed from behind the microphone, his square jaw attempted a smile as he accepted another round of applause. “But in spite of our tireless commitment, there will undeniably be those who choose to oppose this official announcement.”
    Aimee took a short, panicked breath and fought back the urge to look over at Cresig and Lora, who stood unfaltering as they glared up at the stage.
    “I encourage you all to ignore any arguments. These protestors are simply attempting to keep fear of the Apocalypse alive, nothing more.” Slayter added a harsh tone to his last words as he gazed down at the group in front of him. “Are we, as a city, supposed to believe that the mighty human race could be killed by something so impossibly absurd?” His voice began to grow as the crowd’s cheers spread across the park. “I show you the facts, they show you opinion and rumors! I give you jobs and wealth, they give you fear and insignificance! I give you life, they give you death! Who do you choose?!”
    The crowd rose in an uproar of applause and whistles, and the group became encircled in the midst of the audience as Slayter stepped down from the podium.
    “He does have a way with words, does he not?” Cresig finally said plainly, his blue eyes focused in a calm gaze on the now-empty stage. “Makes everything seem so right.” He turned to Lora. “He will make things very difficult for us now,” he finished in a hushed tone.
    “What else would you expect from a politician in that power?” Darwin cut in from behind the two. “They always end up winning the crowd with something they say. Slayter’s just worse than most.”
    “Do you think he’ll ever stop, Darwin?” Cresig said as he turned to face the boy.
    “Slayter? I doubt it,” Darwin answered quickly. “He’ll milk this situation for all it’s worth just so he can see his name in the papers. And we’ll listen to whatever he has to say, I think he knows that.”
    Cresig took a moment to stare around the crowd before he found a way out of the mob. He turned to see if Darwin was following him. “Come with me.”

***

    The cheers of the crowd began to fade as Darwin followed Cresig across an empty area of the park. His mind wandered, unaware of where he was going or why he agreed to follow this essential stranger into the surrounding trees. The path began to become familiar to him, and Darwin found himself stopping in front of a small clearing.
    “I thought we would make a stop here,” he grinned as Cresig kneeled beside his brother’s rosebush, now mostly hidden beneath the new blanket of snow.
    Cresig let out a sigh as he beckoned Darwin closer to the plot. “Did I ever tell you how he died?”
    Darwin shook his head, hesitant to hear the answer. “Never.”
    “He was shot,” Cresig said plainly as his eyes remained locked on the ground.
    Darwin paused, unable to find any words to say, and the two sat quietly as a wind whistled across them. “I’m sorry,” he managed to choke out after a moment.
    “We were living in Astoria,” Cresig replied casually. “I know it’s not the safest place, but we never had any enemies. The whole community stuck together.” He pat his hand over the ground as he began to wipe the snow away from the rose bush. “But there must have been someone he never told me about. After living with him all those years, I still can’t believe I never saw it.”
    “Saw what?” Darwin heard himself blurt out in curiosity before he could stop it.
    “He was in the drug trade,” Cresig replied, as if he was telling an ordinary story. “Something must have gone wrong and then...” his voice trailed off.
    “You never found out why?” Darwin pried after Cresig failed to finish his sentence.
    Cresig smirked, a look Darwin guessed to be a cover to distract from the sadness he caught in the stranger’s eye. “Well I couldn’t exactly ask him afterwards,” he said, a barely-detectable chuckle in his voice.
    “I’m sorry,” Darwin found himself repeating.
    “It’s not your fault,” Cresig shrugged his shoulders. “Anyway, there were these guys...I don’t know, I remember waking up that night to the smell of smoke- they set our building on fire, too. That’s where I got...you know.” Cresig pointed to the scarred side of his face, only patches of it visible as another gust of wind blew his black hair across his cheek. “I ran outside and that’s where I found him, being dragged across the street by some men before they shot him in front of a dumpster.”
    “I’m sorry.”
    “I think we’ve already established that,” Cresig answered blankly. He took a long breath and sat quietly for a moment, and Darwin began to feel sadness at the sight he saw on the ground in front of him. “He was a good person, Darwin,” Cresig continued finally. “He made me realize what it’s like to lose someone. Before him, I’d just watched others go through it, but never experienced anything for myself.” A faint smile crossed his face as he finally raised his gaze back to Darwin. “It taught me a lot. That’s why he’s here; he deserved something honorable like this, not just somewhere like Calvary. And besides, all of Queens is there already anyway.”
    “I’m sor-”
    “Don’t say it,” Cresig impatiently cut Darwin off with a swift wave of his leather gloved hand. He rose from the ground, wiping off the remaining snow from his black pea coat. He placed his arm around Darwin as he also stood, and pulled the student in closer. “Don’t you see? This is exactly why Lora and I need to find proof; not just thoughts, that won’t be enough, but we need hard proof. There are people here, Darwin, real people.” Cresig motioned toward the small rosebush. “Not just him, but others. If Slayter goes on ignoring this, real people will die. Aimee, Elli, Lora, you and I will all be gone.”
    “How can you be so sure of this?” Darwin asked as he pulled himself away from Cresig’s grasp. “Has anyone really found proof?”
    “Just theories. But strong ones. Some of the most experienced scientific minds in the nation are behind it. Of course, Slayter lied about them too.” A sound of desperation cut into the end of Cresig’s words as he looked the student in the eyes. “How can you be so sure that it doesn’t exist?” he studied Darwin’s face for a moment then began to open his mouth in awe as he reached a conclusion. “You aren’t, are you? I can feel it in my lungs and I know you can too, don’t lie to me.” Cresig cut Darwin off before the student had a chance to argue. He grasped the boy by the shoulders. “You’re trying to block all of it out so you don’t slip into a panic like the rest of us. But you have to, Darwin; you have to own up to it before any of us can fix this. And you promised us that you would help fix this.”
    Darwin kept his head low to avoid making eye contact. To his distant side, he could see the crowd dispersing from around the stage. Through the mass of people, Darwin could see a glimpse of rainbow-colored hair and a smile spread across Ellizabeth’s face as she and Aimee stood with their cameras dangling from their necks. He saw the empty podium and the looming figure of Slayter as he stepped into a black limousine that would carry him across Manhattan.
    “If for nothing else, do it for Elli, do it for Aimee,” Cresig added quietly from beside Darwin. “They need you. Just because you accept it doesn’t mean you have to panic; and you shouldn’t panic. You and I need to stay strong through this if we are going to get any support.”
    “What ‘we’?” Darwin cut in. “What makes you think we’re a team? Who do you think you are? You can’t tell me what to do!” He turned to storm off down the paved walkway.
    “What are you going to do when Lora finds evidence?” Cresig shouted after him. “You’ll be alone. That’s what you’re really afraid of. Will you accept it then, or will you continue to side with Slayter?”
    “Why do you have so much faith in this?” Darwin snapped as he spun around to face the man. “It’s just an idea!”
    “No, don’t you get it? It’s much more than an idea!” Cresig answered, a newly-found, youthful energy taking over his voice as he hurried toward Darwin. “An idea is too general, too large. An idea doesn’t focus on the individual people. And individual people will die from this. Not just a few, but this entire city! Look around this community, there are children! Just because they are young does not mean they will not die as well.” Cresig leaned closer to Darwin and lowered his voice. “We’re talking whole families, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters. Individuals. Real people.” His gaze followed the black limousine as it pulled out onto the faraway road. “That’s the difference between men like Slayter and myself. Do you think Slayter would care about any of this if there wasn’t a chance for advancing his own career?” Cresig watched as Darwin stared after the Senator’s exit. “He doesn’t care about us, Dar,” he said in a whisper, following the car’s trail until it turned a corner. “He cares about building factories and blind support.”
    “What do you want me to do?” Darwin replied weakly as he focused his eyes on the snowy ground beside the rose bush.
    “Don’t be a coward,” Cresig replied blankly. “That’s all it takes. And then we can win this.”
    The crowd had all but vanished, and Darwin spotted Aimee and Ian scanning across the park; looking for him, he hoped, as he looked for a possible exit. “I need to go.” He finally choked out as he turned away from the man.
    Cresig shrugged and followed Darwin as he headed back to the group, and the two walked side-by-side in silence until they neared the stage. “You remind me of him, you know,” Cresig finally said quietly.
    Darwin turned to Cresig and saw his blue eyes staring back at him; the sight of the man that had only moments ago filled his mind with sadness now left Darwin in a rage, and an immense hatred began to grow for what he saw beside him. “Who?” he asked impatiently.
    Cresig nodded his head casually in the direction of the small plot. He pat Darwin on the shoulder as the two approached the group. “When you come around, I’ll be here. Just grant me the favor of doing it soon. If you hold off too long, we’ll all be dead before you get there,” Cresig finished, then gave a small grin to Aimee and Elli as they welcomed Darwin back.
    Darwin stood frozen in the middle of the sidewalk, breathless as he forgot about his friends, who waited for him to follow them out of the park. He found himself unable to move until he noticed Lora pass by him, a look of disappointment waving across her face as she and Cresig followed the group down the pavement. He closed his eyes, avoiding a second glance at Cresig, as he followed the group.
    “Hey, are you all right?” Aimee’s voice called as she fell back to walk with him. Darwin turned to see a look of concern in her gentle green eyes as they stared questioningly at him.
    “I’m fine,” he replied blankly, looking straight ahead at the surrounding skyline. “Let’s just go.”


© 2010 Jooolie


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Another great chapter. I loved the backstory with Cresig and how his brother died. You're really getting into your characters nbow and it's making the characters that much better.

Posted 11 Years Ago


I think there were a few bits that were a little wordy, but as I got to the end I honestly couldn't tell you where they were as the story kind of took hold. As always your use of description is excellent, gives an excellent mental picture of each scene. Awesome work

Posted 13 Years Ago



Nice, prolific work; you're appreciation for setting, details, and some level of intimacy is evidenced in the text. It might be trimmed down some on a final pass but for now it's well done.

Posted 13 Years Ago



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Added on September 19, 2010
Last Updated on December 13, 2010


Author

Jooolie
Jooolie

The city with the water tower, IA



About
I'm a sophomore in Journalism/Mass Communication and in the process of some sweet novel-writing. I thoroughly enjoy show tunes and I don't care who knows. I really like reading short stories an.. more..

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