Authors: Stephanie Dorman
Copyright and Disclaimer
Copyright © 2012 by Stephanie Dorman
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the author, except for the inclusion of brief quotations in a review.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
North Carolina Shores
The light of the moon created a path on the water as the waves crashed against the sand. It was perhaps the most beautiful thing she had ever seen in her young life. Granted, her life had been pretty short up until this point as she was only a tender seven years old. Sneaking a look back at the house where her parents were currently drinking concoctions from the cabinet she wasn’t allowed to touch and screaming at each other over something she couldn’t wrap her head around, she stepped further on to the beach.
She wasn’t supposed to be here, so close to the ocean without adult supervision. Apparently, the ocean held a power that scared her mother and gave her father a kind of caution she rarely saw from him. She had been amazed because it was the first time in what seemed like forever they had actually agreed on something. Her mother kept saying something about a hurricane off-shore and how it was making the waves and the rip current stronger. She hadn’t even let her go in the water earlier that day. She had been forced to make sandcastles with her little brother at her mother's feet while her dad watched golf inside.
That’s why she sneaked out of the house when they weren’t paying attention. She had to see what the “rip current” was. She had to know what this thing was that had her parents so scared. Taking her pajamas off revealed a neon pink one piece bathing suit with miniature sparkles that reflected the light bouncing off the water. Standing in front of the pathway the moon created, she started walking into the water.
It was surprisingly cold considering the earlier heat of the day and her body involuntarily shivered as wave after wave lapped at her feet. The sand beneath her tiny heels gave way each time water pushed past her feet and went back out to sea. Each time, she found herself lose her footing at the power of the ocean. For a second, she stopped to consider her mission: if the waves were this strong when she was only ankle deep - maybe her mother and her father had been right.
Ignoring the tiny voice in the back of her mind, she continued stepping along the unending walkway the moon created for her. First knee deep, than waist deep, and finally a wave crashed over her head and she found herself totally submerged. Her body twisted and contorted under the strength of the waves and she thought that she must look like one of those performers she had seen with ribbons earlier that year at a local faire.
Pulling toward the surface, sputtering out the salt water that had invaded her nose and mouth, she looked back at the house. It seemed so much farther away than the last time she looked and it was getting smaller. Her little feet tried to touch the sand that must have been somewhere beneath her but she couldn’t feel it. That must have been what her parents were afraid of - the ocean pulling her away from them.
Taking a deep breath, she floated her body to the surface of the water and looked at the stars above her. She could see them all here, unlike at home. She supposed she should probably be scared by the whole ordeal; she had only been in swimming lessons for half the summer. If the ocean wanted to take her away in its rip current there was nothing she could do to stop it.
A smile came across her face as she found the North Star from the Little Dipper. Let the ocean take her away. There was nothing in that house for her anyway - and floating across the ocean seemed like a grand adventure. Perhaps the ocean would take her somewhere far away, to a place where somebody cared about her. Maybe she would find a family that would notice her absence. Maybe, just maybe, the ocean could take her to a place where she felt loved.
“Don't you know that a midnight hour comes when everyone has to take off his mask? Do you think life always lets itself be trifled with? Do you think you can sneak off a little before midnight to escape this?”
Chapter 1: Annalise
December 12, 2012
If she were to write a memoir of the day that changed her life and turned it upside down, Annalise would have to say that the day began pretty much like every day in recent memory. Her phone presumably started it’s alarm cycle at six in the morning, which she slept through. Then at eight, it started vibrating by her bedside, eventually falling in the crack between the frame and the mattress. That was the way she liked it, ignoring her phone and staying in her dreams.
Eventually her phone started pinging her repeatedly. The sound was that of an alien noise which permeated her sleep state and caused her to groan. Her coworkers and friends were probably attempting to wake her. She was probably late for some meeting. Rolling over, she felt around the side of the bed to locate the device that was producing the offending noise. Upon finding it, her first priority was to press the volume buttons on the side to make sure it stopped screeching at her. She considered dropping it on the floor and remaining in bed for another half an hour, but she couldn’t be positive that she didn’t have some important meeting at a client site. Scanning her collective memories of the day before, the image of an early morning meeting on her calendar didn’t appear. But, really, it had to be something pretty important for her phone to just keep buzzing like that. Opening one eye, reluctantly, she glanced at the text message screen. Seven missed texts - from a very unexpected source.
Wake up Annalise. We have to go.
Turn on the news now.
Do you remember the plan?
Please tell me you remember the plan.
Annalise - wake up. Dammit.
I can’t get you too. You have to wake up.
Annalise - please - wake up. Remember?!
Well, that was certainly different. She hadn’t heard from Cort in two months, since her spectacular display of temporary psychosis induced by spending too much time with her married friends and their children that caused her to break up with him. They had tried to be friends for a brief time after but it had eventually become too hard for both of them to maintain the facade that they still trusted each other. He said he didn’t trust her not to leave him again, and she hadn’t trusted him to be honest about the other women he was seeing. They had spent countless hours over-analyzing every aspect but never found a way to solve the problem. Instead, they ended up both spending every day frustrated with the state of their fake friendship until eventually drifting apart, pretending that “they” as a couple had never happened. Yet, there he was telling her to turn on the news and asking about a plan she couldn’t quite recall. She considered texting him asking what plan, but figured perhaps the TV could provide the missing clue.
Sitting up and rubbing her eyes, she pulled the remote from under one of her legs and turned on the 42 inch TV, mounted to the wall in front of her bed. It was in power save mode because she had fallen asleep with some show that showcased the horrible side of human nature like
or some celebrity’s attempt of extending 15 minutes of fame by cashing in on the reality show craze. As the TV blared to life, the first thing she noticed was the red text scrolling across the bottom of her screen.
BREAKING NEWS: Washington DC paralysed by riots. City in shambles.
“Holy shit,” she muttered under her breath. It really was happening. The world as she knew it was coming undone at the seams. Video clips played on a loop of the situation in the city, police in riot gear beating back what seemed like ordinary citizens, looters destroying storefronts to take what they could and fires spreading across the city finally coming to a stop only where the Potomac river created a wide barrier of water that the fire dared not cross. The pundits were speaking over the devastation in their most professional voices, some already saying that it would take years, maybe decades, to recover from this kind of revolt in the nation's capital.
Unable to tear her eyes from the carnage playing on the screen in front of her she slowly fumbled for her phone again, finally finding it, she hit reply.
I’m awake, and yeah, I remember the plan.
Meet you in a couple hours.
Try not to die on your way there.
Annalise watched the horror play out on her TV and thought back to the time she had spent with Cort. One of their favorite pastimes had been talking about plans for an eventual end of the world scenario. They had thought about zombies, government failure, and nuclear disaster. They spent endless nights talking about where they would go, who they would bring them, and what they would take. By the time their relationship ended they had a full fledged plan that they could enact in the event of an emergency. At the time it had all been a morbid kind of fun and games, never something Annalise thought she’d actually have to follow through with. She should have paid more attention to what was going on around her though because in the months since they had dated the political discourse in the country had degraded to some of the most immature, ill-thought bullshit she had ever heard. Half the country was up in arms and half apathetic. It was pretty much par for the course in recent years and everyone had assumed after the election things would get better. After the election things always got better.
Unfortunately, things don’t always work out the way you expect them to. The candidate everyone thought had no chance of winning orchestrated a stunning come from behind victory. Rally cries of cheating, voter fraud and payoffs of various election officials had started before the west coast polls had even closed. Almost immediately various protest groups had held God-knows how many marches down Constitution Avenue for whatever ridiculous causes they believed in. Over the course of 48 hours DC had turned from nation’s capital and symbol of freedom to the world, to the nation’s capital of repugnance and animosity.
Most of the DC and suburban natives like herself had ignored the signs of the quick growing discontent, mostly because of numbness from overexposure to political strife. That’s why almost a month to the date of the biggest and most important election in the nation's history she was sitting at the edge of her bed watching Washington DC, the nation's capital, crumble under the weight of the dissatisfaction of American citizens. It was mesmerizing, enthralling and she couldn’t help but wonder if this was what Nero was feeling as he watched Rome burn beneath his feet.
Tearing her gaze away from the TV she looked at the clock by her bed. The faint letters told her it was somewhere around 9:30. If she started packing now, she could probably be finished by noon and try to round up the people who mattered. Jumping off the bed she threw open the doors to her walk-in closet and pulled out a backpack, two rolling luggage cases and two duffle bags. She took all the winter clothes she owned and began stuffing them in the rolling suitcases. Standing on her tiptoes, she snatched her snowboarding pants, boots, scarves, gloves and hats off the top shelf and tossed them to the bed. They would come in handy if there was a snowstorm while they were hiding out in the mountains of western Maryland. Looking at her snowboard she grabbed it as well, who knew, maybe she’d get in some good boarding while they killed time waiting for the whole thing to blow over.