"I can't believe you're staying." James paced back and forth on the veranda, his hands clenched into fists. Tuffs of hair stuck out and matched perfectly with his disheveled clothing and expression. He put a cigarette to his lips, breathed in the smoke and blew it out. However there was no calming effect and he threw the smoke on the ground, stomping it with his heel.
"Well I have to, James." Victoria folded her arms over her chest, rumpling her elegant violet dress. Her brown hair cascaded past her shoulders and she played with a strand in her fingers. "We can't just leave!" Desperation bogged down her words as her voice began to crack from the emotions. "People are dying-people we care about, we can't just leave them."
"Yes." James was about to light another cigarette, but thought better of it and shoved it into his pocket. "Yes we can, Victoria." He spoke her name with a smile and twinkle of his eyes. "The disease is moving fast, quarantine can't possibly stop its spread. The city will just be another nest for the virus. No one will survive." Though he was speaking of apocalyptic circumstances, a smile lingered on his lips. "But that doesn't mean we have to die with them." He took her hands in his own. "We can live! Victoria! We can join the rest of the survivors on the beach island hidden deep in the pacific. No disease can reach us; we'll have our own villa and a community of friends! It will be paradise! You have to come with me, I love you so much! I'd just die if you stayed here."
"Then stay with me, if you love me so much. Help the men and women risking their lives on the streets of this city as they stop the disease. People are dying and I can't stay up here arguing with you! Come with me and help those people."
"This isn't about them, damn it!" James added another expletive and red tinged his cheeks. "This is about us! Our future, our lives! Going down to the streets and staying here is a death sentence! Besides, we need to get to the roof where the captain is waiting with the chopper! We can't waste any more time arguing!"
"Then leave, James Alexander Walker! Go to your chopper! Save your own life while the people of this city and country are taken by the disease. Forget about your mother, father, friends… children." She hesitated as pain flooded his eyes.
"You knew I had to leave Phillip behind. He was sick… the helicopter wouldn't have been able to take all his medical supplies and him with us." James took a step forward so his breath fell on Victoria. "I left him with protection so he will not die. I did not abandon him!"
Victoria was about to argue, however she knew it was pointless. They had spent a good several hours screaming at each other over the fate of his mentally and physically disabled seventeen year old son. Phillip had been stuck at a hospital in Seattle while James urged her to leave with him to California. Victoria had only met Phillip twice and knew that taking him along would've been impossible with all his problems and handicaps.
So instead of a shouting match with her fiancé, she turned away and walked towards the door. She felt his eyes glaring at her back.
She spun around, heartened by the remorsefulness and kindness of his tone. However when she met his eyes, they were only cold, blue orbs. "Why do you care so much about them, anyways? Their all doomed-they sealed their fates when they stayed in the city. Come with me while we still have a chance. We can have an outdoor wedding like you dreamed of, have many children and we'll live off the millions I've made from my job. No more work, pain, suffering! Just you, me, friends and soon we'll have a family." A smile lightened his cold stare and she saw the complete desperation in his words. "I love you!"
With those words she nearly ran to his side. His handsome face, the envy of her colleagues and friends, watched her with such hope and promise. They could start a new life, one with all the joys and pleasures they could imagine. A beach villa! What a difference from the poverty-stricken apartments she'd grown up in. It would be paradise and she would be with the perfect man-her lover.
"Please say yes." James urged her with his blue eyes wide. "I need you."
I need you… then it became clear what she needed to do.
"No, James." A tear spilled down her cheek and glistened in the pale moonlight. "I'm going back and staying here. Come with me if you truly love me; sacrifice your self so that others may live. I know you, James and I already know you're going to say no. I know that you only care about yourself and I'm just another way to get pleasure. So go, leave without me. Or if you truly love me, stay and help these people. Maybe even go back to your poor disabled son in the hospital. But if not, then enjoy your life at the beach villa. I know you'll find a beautiful girl, one who will give you pleasure and want only your riches in return. It's your choice James." With that she turned away and went through the door.
She hesitated for a second and listened to his footfalls. However they led away from the door and towards the staircase leading to the skyscraper's roof. She waited one minute, hoping against hope that he would come back.
She finally left when the helicopter began to roar above her.
When she left the abandoned and ruined skyscraper, she saw the desolation and ruin that had come to her city. Teenagers, old and young, roved in hordes as they looted empty stores and houses. Families and groups of people ran or drove down the street, away from the foggy but evident clouds of disease. Those that did not move fast enough, fell on the ground as the voracious disease ate away at their skin in seconds. James was right: it was hopeless.
"Mommy! Mommy!" A little boy, not a day over three, sat near the doors to her building, crying and screaming. His clothing was torn and tiny face tear-stained; beside him was the decomposing corpse of a young woman.
Pity tore at her heart and she scooped up the flailing boy in her arms. "Mommy!" He pushed away from her, yet she held him tightly against her chest.
"Shush… shush… you're okay… you're okay." She ran back into the building, the child in her arms. Slamming the doors closed, she went to a couch in the lobby and sat down as the boy began to calm. "It's okay… I'm here… I'm here… everything will be alright."
Pictures of James flashed through her mind, though regret did not accompany them. Instead, like the little boy in her arms, she pitied and loved him. He may have run from the disease, but his own selfishness, cowardice and regret would plague him for the rest of his life.
"Mommy…" the boy quieted and she began to rock him in her arms. Back and forth as she ruffled his hair gently. "Mommy…" he fell silent and she hugged him against her chest.
"It's okay… don't worry…" Soothingly she began to sing the only nursery rhyme she remembered. It was the same one her mother sang to her when she wasn't high or drunk; the words came to her clearly.
"Hush now don't say a word…" a fog drifted past the doors and some curled underneath the door. The mist spread over the floor and came towards them. She closed her eyes and stroked the boy's head.
"The moon is here and night has come…" one of the vapors brushed her toes and pain flared up her leg as the disease tore into her flesh. A tear fell from her brown eyes.
"It is time for little one's to close their eyes…" the vapor rose up her leg and the pain became nearly unbearable. Pinpricks became burning, which then became a hellish sensation that nearly caused her to cry out.
"Mom's and dad's kiss their children goodbye…" she tried to protect the boy from the enveloping mist with her body. The searing pain finally caused her to cry out as her bones began to show where her skin once was.
"And when the sun is done its play…" she managed as the boy fidgeted in her arms.
"Then we can go outside and enjoy the day… but for now it is time to sleep…" the boy was wailing in tears and she forced herself to abandon the lobby and press up the stairs. Her legs were wobbly and every step took up all her strength. The boy was crying quietly as the disease followed them up the stairwell.
Finally they reached the veranda where James had been, ran to the staircase and made their way to the roof. The helicopter was gone and she couldn't see it anywhere in the sky. Around her the disease, which appeared as a mist, blanketed the city and rose high into the air. Despite the warmth from the warm night, she was shivering and whimpering.
"Mommy?" The boy broke free from her grip and she let him stand on the roof. "Who are you?"
Victoria saw the clouds rising up the wall of the skyscraper so that in minutes they would cover the boy and her. There was no escaping the deadly virus that traveled in the virulent fog. "I'm Victoria." Her legs were badly burned and the rest of her skin was smoldering with remnants of the disease. "Come here, child." She went on her knees and gestured at him. "We're going to see Mommy."
A smile lit up his worried face and he ran into her arms. She held him tightly and made up her mind on what to do. "What's your name?"
"Tyson." He pronounced in a little kid way. "Where's Mommy?"
Victoria walked to the edge of the roof, stared down at the clouds rushing up to greet her and breathed deeply. "I love you Tyson." She stroked his head once more, kissed him on the head and gave him a hug. "We're going to see Mommy."
Then she shut her eyes and let herself fall off the skyscraper.
Goodbye James… the air rushed past her and the disease stung at her skin for seconds before she landed on the ground. Tyson was silent and he didn't even know he'd lost his life until he opened his eyes…
And there in what could only be true paradise, was his mother. Victoria blinked in wonder and surprise, the disease was gone and joy filled her heart. This, not the beach villa that James spoke of was paradise.
This was Heaven.