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Of Fear and Hope

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  "In skating over thin ice our safety is in our speed."
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

 


  The iron cage of inactivity doted the owner's breath. A lock-box sealing the chest like several layers of concrete. What little breath moved inwards and out hastened the perspiration along the unbreathing's forehead. Thin, straw-like hair clumped together and shined with the moisture, the salty liquid wetting the eyes and drawing tears as it moved further down. The day was humid and the temperature was ferocious enough to bring upon the monsoon of beads from Jacob DeShaw's brow, but the young man knew otherwise. The black pangs faded from his view, once again giving him sight of a long-cluttered desk and the unbearable clicking of keys and buttons that surrounded him. If anyone dared to peek inside DeShaw's cubicle, they'd see naught but a mental fool, both hands squeezing on the temples as though to keep his sanity inside. It was close enough to the truth, fighting the oncoming migraine that always followed one of his attacks. Each longer, stronger breath cleared his vision and mind more, but the incessant typing, not halted by the cubicle walls designed to absorb sound, threatened to crack him open like an overripe coconut. Looking down at his once-busy hands, Jacob realized that they were soaked in ink. The pen he had held was snapped in his white-knuckle grip, unable to fight the force of his left hand. A mental and physical sigh was enough for Jacob to admit that his father was correct; the prescription stays. The pills made him tired, but so did the constant anxiety brought on from a mediocre desk job and caring for his ill parent. There were days where Jacob believed he was stuck in Purgatory and was unaware of it. Life moved forward, but he did not see change. The monotony of life tore at the heart and mind until Jacob worshiped any change in day, be it good or bad. He needed a vacation, badly. Some way to get away from Seattle, from here.  A box of tissues was hardly enough to fully clean Jacob; the man needed a shower, and the day was hardly half-done with him. Still, it cleaned his hands of the purplish stains, and his white button-down was left untouched. If there was a positive side to things, that was it. The Purchasing orders from those above him and filtered to the ones below him still remained on his screen, waiting to be verified. eighty thousand sheets of paper needed to be brought in before the end of the week, and two hundred thousand by the end of August. He had around two months to ensure that truckers delivered and that the cases were in condition. The sales team also need boards for an upcoming presentation, and other office supplies, and the janitorial department needed a slew of items, and...

 

  The bars around his lungs tightened once more, his mind becoming far too worked up after his recent attack. He needed something to relax him, and fast. Standing up and facing away from the noise, the commotion, the computer, Jacob let out a breath he didn't realize was saved, using the breathing exercises his Zen-like trainer taught him. Through the nose, out the mouth, exhaling every three seconds and holding the exhalation for two seconds, then pulling back in. It wasn't the actual act of breathing that helped him; it was the focus it required, pulling his mind away from troubles for a moment. With shaking hands, Jacob placed a thick thumb over the blue tap of the water cooler, far at the end of the cubicle aisle. It was, as Hollywood framed it, a prime source of small talk, but Jacob was lucky enough to be solitary, sipping silently at the thin paper cone in his hands, struggling to hold the liquid together. As the refreshment slid down his throat, pulling a lone pill with it, Jacob felt as though the sun was rising yet again, perhaps promising a better outcome soon. He lingered for a few moments long with the empty cup between his fingers, then crumpled the paper into ball and tossed it into a nearby wastebasket. A wet thunk, like a stick snapping in a mud puddle, broke the rhythm of office sound and was cause for Jacob to face the direction by which he heard the sound. He recognized Jessica from Human Resources two stories above in his glance, but his eyes still sought for the source of the mysterious crack. After the initial once-over, Jacob realized that Jessica was bleeding from a cut below the knee. A yellowish-white told him that he was looking at a compound fracture at the shin, and that the bleeding was not light or stopping on its own. In a voice that held more strength than its owner, Jacob let out a yell, easily breaking the nonverbal peace of the office. "Someone get an ambulance, quick! Someone's hurt!" His mind couldn't focus on relaying orders to those nearby, instead intending on trying to help Jessica. She was dead quiet for someone who suffered a break like that. Jacob believed her to be in shock, as her eyes looked glossy and the skin was pale, bluish around the fingernails. Pointing to a rather heavy co-worker and demanding a blanket, Jacob tried to recite old Boy Scout lessons as he approached Jessica, keeping his voice lowered. "Jess, you'll be fine. I'm gonna wrap this break you have here..." She was facing him, but her head was lowered, her chin nearly on her chest. She was hardly standing, wavering from side to side. It was as though the world shut off for her. The wet snap from earlier disappeared from his thoughts as Jacob crept close, seemingly breathing life into the HR representative as she lunged forward, hardly impeded by the serious fracture. "Jessica, stop! I'm here to help!" Her arms wrapped around his shoulders, Jacob placing his hands under her armpits and pushing back to keep her off of him. She was mentally ill, she had to be. Some kind of delusion brought her to violence. Whatever kind of delusion she had, it gave her strength, and a lot of it. Jacob could hardly keep against her attack, though he probably had close to fifty pounds and four inches over her weight and height. Twisting his torso, Jacob sent her reeling and spinning into the cubicle aisle, where a man much more fit and able than he sprang to action, using his arms to pin her shoulders down. Jessica wasn't speaking words, instead sending out high-pitched groans that varied in volume and moaned at movement that wasn't her own, twisting her head to and fro. The lower jaw opened and shut like a door, aiming and reaching for anything. Seattle was a big city, but there was a hospital near enough to Warren's to bring an ambulance. Time was slower than Jacob perceived it as the adrenaline removed all worries from his mind and prepared him for any changes in the environment. Jessica was looking to kill, and it terrified him. The wet thunk sounded several times during the commotion, and Jacob picked up on it once more. His eyes perceived the blue jackets of Seattle's emergency respondents, glad to put the weight of the situation on professionals. The man pinning Jessica reeled as they arrived, yelling out in a mix of confusion, anger, and pain as white teeth marks on his forearm grew red with blood. A few muttered swears left his lips, but otherwise the wound was superficial. Jacob closed in on the odd sound once more, tracing it to a far wall. Looking around, he saw minor splits in the wood around a heavy steel door leading to the staircase. They were meant to act as a fire escape if necessary, as they were electronically controlled and could shut down or open in an emergency, be it fire or something serious. The wet, stick-breaking sound returned, and repeated over and over in a quick manner. It was picking up speed. Jacob recognized the sound as wood breaking and metal bending in an odd mix, the wood struggling to hold the metal back as it slammed into the door frame again and again. Something powerful was pushing it, and Jacob was terrified to find out what. Jessica was strange enough for a lifetime, and yet Jacob found himself peeking through the tiny and slender window in the door.

 

  As though direct descendants of Jessica, the dozen-odd shambling mass forced itself into the door with no hesitation, and the few farther back forced themselves into the ones ahead, working as one giant, human battering ram. They were sick, and spreading. Was Jessica the first? Did she catch it from someone upstairs, or did she bring it downstairs some other way? Jacob's vision was darkened a bit, but another attack would be lethal now, and Jacob's body was smart enough to know that. Stepping away from the door, Jacob grabbed the end of a cubicle desk, ignoring the toppling computer and supplies spilling to the floor as Jacob braced it against the door. It wasn't the only escape, so Jacob was sure that buying time was essential. Somehow, little things like vandalism didn't bother him now. He'd face the music later, if he survived. Jessica was hard enough to handle with several people available, and she was one woman. If the force beyond the door were anything like her, they'd rip through this floor, then the next. It was useless burning time at his workplace; Jessica was restrained and wasn't alone. Letting out a yell, Jacob shared his knowledge before breaking into a sprint. "There's more like her on the other side of this door!" The desk-worker pivoted like a well trained basketball player, letting his feet carry him down another flight of stairs, descending the three stories between him and the lobby. It was record speed, and Jacob didn't stop at the ground floor, shouldering a person to the side as he left through the automatic doors, looking down at his clothing to realize they were blood-stained from his tussle with Jessica and whoever he ran against. Whatever was driving these people made them slow and almost blind, but Jacob noted that there were several Jessica look-a-likes roaming the sidewalks, their jaws slack and gripping at whoever was near. There were dead piling up, and Jacob realized with horror that some stood back up after fatal wounds to the neck, and in one particular case, a large slit in the abdomen revealing the innards beneath. The taste of bile tainted Jacob's mouth, letting out a spit-up of greenish fluid to the sidewalk. It had been awhile since he had properly retched from such a grisly sight. The sidewalks weren't safe, filled with the dead, those that rose again, and a few nuts that were healthy as a bull and waving guns around. As Jacob dipped into an alleyway, remembering the directions to his home several blocks away, he heard a few of these shots ring out, signifying the change Jacob desired but now found he never wanted. If nothing else, his mind wasn't worrying on work anymore. It worried on his livelihood,  which was somehow less stressful and easier to breath about.


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28 minutes ago, TheWraithPlayer said:

Good stuff. A bit heavy on the description in places, but I like it.

Yeah, I plan on setting a few things up as such to draw contrast with another character that'll be put in on the follow-up post to this. I had half a mind to make Jacob more of a wallflower, but opted to make a side-character personality into the main focus. He wasn't my first choice, but probably my best to act as a foil for another character later on. Granted, I suppose even his father could've worked as the foil I needed, but he's definitely a side character.

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