Papers littered the street, pink and yellow and blue, stuck to the asphalt, turning to pulp in the gutters. The tall buildings looked sick themselves with their boarded up windows, the silent papered street running between them like a nurse sitting bedside, helpless and hopeful, feeling the first signs of sickness herself but denying it.
The absolute silence and sweet stench betrayed death’s zeal despite any efforts to keep her presence hidden behind boarded windows and doors. Whole families were rotting away in apartments that no one would be coming to clean out. No one was on their way with a stretcher to carry the bodies off to the hospital, no one was digging graves in the cemetery. Who was left to do such things?
“Sophie, Sophie listen to me. Come out of there. We have got to go. We have to get out of here.”
From behind the closet door there was some muffled crying. Aletheia’s hand was on the knob trying to turn it, but it refused to move.
“Sophie, let go and come out. This has gone too far, come out now!” she cried.
“How do I know,” the muted voice behind the door asked, “that you aren’t sick?”
“Because I can’t be Sophie. Just like you can’t be. You know that we can’t die, but we can get stuck. There is nothing here. It is a stupid game, come out before you get stuck.”
Sniffles from behind the door and a whimper,
“Mamma and Papa and baby Nelie all got sick. I might get sick too. I might die.”
“Sophie! Don’t you even think of trying that! Do you hear me? Then you really will be stuck. Those weren’t your parents or your sister. You know this, you’ve just forgotten. Come out now. I’m your real sister, Aletheia.”
Footsteps in the hall. Alethia turned to see a dark headed man pass through the doorway into the cluttered room. The white sleeves of his shirt were rolled up revealing muscular arms.
“What a reeking mess.” He frowned “What’s the hold up?”
“The hold up is 1918 New York!” Aletheia spat, whirling on him. “We should never have played this one!”
“It’s just a game Aletheia, don’t get so upset, you might get stuck.” He frowned at her.
“Save your disapproval Thelesis. Sophie is the one getting stuck, she won’t come out. She’s talking about dying. We should never have let her play as a child, the physiology is so unstable.”
Thelesis’s frown deepened.
“Sophia?” He called, “It’s time to go.”
Only a muffled whimper. Thelesis nudged Aletheia aside and gripped the door knob himself. He jerked the door open and a child with long tangled brown curls spilled out onto the floor screaming.
“Stop this Sophia. Logos is about to open the way out. You must relax the muscles of that body, relinquish control. We’ll go have a rest and play a different game later.”
“I don’t want to die!” the child screamed loud and fiercely. Her tear stained cheeks were crimson.
“Sophie I told you, you can’t die.” Aletheia said soothingly. “Just listen to us. Calm down.”
She kneeled and reached out to stroke the little girls face. Sophia jerked away and continued to sob.
“Get away from me! Get away from me! This isn’t your house, get out!”
“You shouldn’t have jerked open the door.” Aletheia said, “It’s made her worse.”
“Try to listen Sophia.” Thelesis said backing away and giving the child space, “You must calm down. Try to relax your whole body. Let Aletheia hold you and sing you a song. It’s time to go.”
“No! Don’t touch me, you get away from me! You shouldn’t be here!”
“Please Sophie.” Aletheia pleaded.
Thelesis cocked his head as if hearing a sound.
“Aletheia, Logos is opening the way now.”
“What about Sophia!” she cried.
“Sh, sh, don’t get upset. You must stay calm. Breath and turn your attention to the gateway.”
“But she’ll be stuck!”
“Aletheia,” Thelesis cupped his sisters face in his hands, “You can’t help her if you are stuck too. We can come back when we are stronger.”
“But look at her,” Aletheia whispered, “I think she has a fever. She is letting that body get sick. It might die.”
Thelesis gathered Aletheia into his arms,
“Logos might find a way to retrieve her. He is a brilliant technician, remember. Now Aletheia, breathe and turn your attention to the gateway. It’s time for us to go.”
She nodded and they stood together breathing and looking into one another’s eyes until they were through the gateway.
The child on the floor watched the man and woman disappear. For a moment she almost remembered who they were. Then she resumed her crying and crawled back into the closet. Inside there was only the sound of this child crying while the silence swept through the streets rustling papers, pink yellow and blue.