The night was long. A fine rain poured down relentlessly. It had been going on for hours and even though the drops were gentle they had turned to the ground to a muddy slosh. Alan Lang stood under an umbrella, the fine streaks were pattering down all around him. In one hand he held a cup of steaming tea, but it was mostly filled with rainwater now. He took a sip and his face twisted in disgust. He looked out over the scene before him. The madness had ended and the arena seemed peaceful once again, but all around were the remains of those victims who had been crushed in the mania. Broken bodies were being dragged through the mud by medical personnel, trying desperately to save those who were still breathing. Most of the bodies were lifeless sacks of flesh. ‘A senseless tragedy,’ Alan thought. No-one had really known how the whole thing had started. One minute things were normal, then everything exploded. The only thing he did know was that Edukation was the cause.
“You don’t have to be here,” Lauren said, squeezing his arm. He looked at her hand and then at the people milling about around them. She withdrew it, glancing away.
“I do. Until we find out who’s responsible this is all on us.” He crunched the polystyrene cup in his fist and threw it on a nearby table, walking away from her. She looked at him desperately, wishing that he would let her in behind his barriers, but those walls had been up for so long she wasn’t sure anything could tear them down.
He walked on through the rain. All around him the medics called out to one another, even now people were still being pulled out. It was almost like the remnants of a warzone, he thought, but there was no battle here, no cause that was fought for. The stage was now a broken mass of wood and metal. Shards of sharp, broken pieces sat up in a jagged formation. Wires crawled across the ground, hidden amongst the mud and muck. The great metal structures that had toppled onto the unsuspecting crowd had been heaved across to allow the medics to prise away the people trapped underneath them, but the rain had yet to wash away the smears of blood that stained the metal. With each step his heart grew heavier and with each glance at another dead body he lost another little piece of his soul. ‘Or was the last of my soul used up long ago, and all that’s left inside me is dust?’ He couldn’t find an answer. What with the riots and now this it was like the city was falling apart, and it was taking him with it. At least Felicio had been quiet recently, although he wasn’t entirely sure whether that was a good or a bad thing. Frankly he was surprised that the vigilante hadn’t showed up here to prevent this tragedy, but then again who knew what went on in the mind of someone who dressed up to fight crime.
Peter heard the rain patter against the window as the rosy sun peeked across the horizon. He sighed contentedly as he looked down and saw Stacey’s perfect face resting on his shoulder. In truth his body was beginning to ache and cramp up after lying in the same position for so long but he dared not move for fear of disturbing her peaceful slumber. Her lips were slightly parted and her breath felt warm against his skin. As he kissed her head she gently shifted her position and nuzzled further into him. He drowned in her scent and relived every moment they had shared, and his heart swelled so much he feared it would burst. Never before had he felt so much intense passion for someone, and part of him was afraid that it would slip away yet there she was in his arms, and there she would stay.
Time wore on and eventually she turned over, and Peter was able to free himself. By this point his belly was growling so he searched for cereal and turned on the radio. As he crunched the cereal he gazed out of the window and absent-mindedly listened through the advertisements until the news came on.
‘And now the latest from the tragic accident that happened late last evening. Bugle Park is still cordoned off as the emergency services try and help the victims of the tragedy. The death toll continues to rise and we still don’t know the cause of the riots, but this, coupled with the recent criminal activity has led some to come out and…’
The news drifted off into the background. Peter staggered back and the bowl crashed to the floor. Milk spread around his feet although he didn’t notice the coldness. He barely noticed anything. A sick feeling rose up through his gut and all his strength sapped from his limbs. Suddenly he felt gaunt and hollow, as if his essence had been ripped out of him. Upon hearing the commotion Stacy leaped out of bed and rushed to his side.
“What’s wrong?” she asked, her voice trembling.
“I…I should have been there,” he said, and pushed past her. He grabbed some clothes and before Stacy knew it he was gone. Then she heard the radio, and it became clear, but all she could do was wait and hope that he returned.
Never had a night felt so bleak and never had a journey seemed to futile. He hoped against hope, but something inside him told him to expect the worst. He reached Bugle park and saw all the vehicles parked and all the police guarding the entrance. He skirted around and found a place that no normal man could reach. He rustled through the underbrush, not feeling the sharp branches scratching at his skin. When he emerged he saw the devastation, and wiped the rain from his eyes in disbelief. He wandered out trying to catch Stephanie’s scent but it was impossible, so he had no choice but to follow the stench of death. The medics had catalogued the bodies and were waiting to take them to the morgue, but while they were still there Peter took the opportunity to creep among them and search for his best friend. With everything else going on nobody paid him any attention, and with every face he saw he felt a mixture of relief and pity, until eventually his worst fears were realised. She looked so…peaceful, but so un-Steph-like. ‘It can’t be her,’ he thought, and yet it was. He held her cold hand but it didn’t grip back. There was so much he wanted to say, so much he should have said, and so much she would never hear. He let her hand slip away from his and ran through the mud back to Stacy. As he sprinted he wasn’t sure where the rain ended and where his tears began, but as he reached Stacy he collapsed at her knees, and she fell to the floor with him.
“I should have been there,” he said through gasping breaths, “I should have been there to save her, to save all of them.”
“You couldn’t have known,” she said soothingly, trying to reassure him, but it only served to make him more agitated.
“No, I should have known. It was my duty to be there. I should have seen it…of course. All those people on Edukation. I could have saved her.”
“These things happen, it’s not your fault, you can’t take all of this on your shoulders.”
He looked up at her, his bloodshot eyes seemed so different from the ones that had professed love just a few hours earlier, after they had been lying in the blissful aftermath of passion.
“Yes I can, it’s what heroes do.” She couldn’t find a response for that, so she held his shuddering body as he mourned the loss of Stephanie.