The area-wide containment procedure told people that they had to stay in place, in their homes, behind locked doors, away from the windows. Men were employed on the streets to make sure the city's citizens did as directed. Fly drones covered the skies to help enforce the mandatory procedures.
Since there was nothing to do, Sally opened up a dictionary and pointed to the first word that she laid her finger on. "Areach. Does anyone have a clue about what that means?"
Ken spoke up first, "it has something to do with reaching."
Lola said, "It sounds like it might be a verb."
"Anything else?" questioned Sally.
"Could you give us a sentence?" Ken asked.
"Sure." Reading straight from the dictionary, she put on her best Southeast Asian accent, "As farre as our poure wyttes can arreche."
"That sounds like some racist ass shit if you ask me," Lola said, slightly annoyed that Sally would pick that sentence and use that particular accent.
Sally smirked. "Yeah, the word pertains to thought and imagination, something that you lack." Lola's face turned red from the small slight against her.
"Don't make me come over there and bitch-slap you," Lola said.
"Enough, you two," butted in Ken. "If this is going to be what it is like with the two of you in containment, I'd do better to take my chances out there with the protectors of the state.
"You'd never make it to the next area-code," stated Sally. "You're stuck in here with us whether you like it or not."
"Areading my future, Sal?" Ken said.
Ken wasn't always as stupid as he looked. Like a bug flying into the eyeball, he surprised Sally from time to time with the knowledge he kept tight-lipped.
Sally had to glance down and find the word. Why yes, she did consider herself to be a sort of soothsayer. Just last week she told her mother that the crackdown was coming and, sure enough, it did to the protest of her mother. It happened one time when she told Arren not to jump into the creek because his leg would get broken, and, sure enough, it did because the water was too shallow for the jump he made from the height he took off from.
"Yes," Sally said, "your future is areeking from the danger you will be in if you leave this house."
"I'm bored," moaned Lola letting out a yawn. "This dictionary stuff is getting me tired."
"See," Sally whispered to Ken, "too much areach for the poor child."
Ken couldn't help but chuckle to himself slightly.
"What was that," Lola snapped, popping areca that was ground up and wrapped in leaves of the Piper betle vine that have been coated with lime into her mouth. She liked to use it for the energy boost it gave her.
"Did you know," ken said, "that the WHO classifies betel nut as a carcinogen. There are convincing studies that the stuff you are putting into your mouth is a cause of cancer of the mouth and esophagus."
Lola shot Ken a glance that would have upturned tables if it was a physical action. "This has been in my family for generations. They are all fine."
Sally slammed the dictionary shut. "We need an arena to take out our pent-up frustrations in."
"Let's use your house as that arena," Lola said with a twinkle in her eye. Tearing up places is something that she enjoyed doing. Tearing up a friend's place was on her top ten fantasy list.
"I know that you would love to wreck my parent's house, but, no. That will not be happening. We can go to the back yard and maybe find some of my teenage-years toys that we can use to bash each other with. My parents never have liked to let go of things. There is a big chest. It might have the things we need to not kill each other with but still have a good time."
With a flick of her black, unwashed hair, Lola said, "Fine. Have it your way, killjoy."
The three got up and headed to the back. They stopped at the sliding glass door to witness the rain falling down. They also checked for drones that might be flying overhead but the storm seemed to keep them with their owners.
They stepped out into the rain. The way to the shed was muddy because Sally's parents, advanced in years, could no longer keep the back yard in tiptop shape. The mud was like soft arenaceous sand that you'd find in the dunes. The mud engulfed their shoes and it took effort to pull them out again.
They reached the shed. Sally unlocked the deadbolt and the three entered.
The light flickered on when Sally flipped the switch.
"Holy crap!" exclaimed Ken. "This place is dusty. People catch the arenavirus in places like this."
"You're free to wait out there," Lola said.
Ken shook his head as he hugged both of the girls close to him, "No. If you two go without me, there will be nothing for me to do here alone in this house for weeks."
Breaking free of Ken's arm, Sally went over to where she last saw the black box full of toys. She moved some boxes and found it easily enough. On top was an arenicolite, a friend who had disappeared about a year ago gave it to her when she returned from a trip to Egypt. It bothered her to see it. It brought up feelings she didn't know how to address. She picked it up and put it into a box before the other two noticed her change in mood.
Lola came over to help lift up the lid. Reaching in, she grabbed the areographic globe and held it up. "Someone used to be a nerd."
"Shut up," Sally said. "At least I have brains."
"Yeah, inserted by aliens." Lola was pleased with her retort.
Declining to double-tap Lola with another comeback, Sally pushed things aside until she felt the things she was looking for. Nerf guns. Nerf pummeling sticks. Perfect.
As she was about to close the lid, Sally noticed a strange object, a staff she'd never laid eyes on. She handed off the nerf items to Ken and Lola, who immediately began hitting each other with them, and Sally picked up the staff object and shut the lid. There was a strap so she whipped it around her shoulder with the intention of examining it more closely when they were in the house with nothing left to do and followed her friends out the door into the back yard with the rain.
Not five minutes passed when they heard the sound of buzzing and then felt the light of a laser beam pressing against their heads. They turned. Resting on top of the roof of the shed was a fly drone, its areola made the veins of the mechanical drone look menacing.
"You have five seconds to get inside." The drone started to count down from four after that.
To avoid being severely burned by the laser, Sally, Ken, and Lola did as commanded with haste. Once inside, Ken said shaking his head like a dog to rid himself of the excess water, "Now there is a true killjoy."
"Hey, arf arf. Stop that," Lola said when water from his shaking entered her eye.
They watched as the fly drone disappeared within the storm.
"What do you have on your back?" inquired Ken. "A staff of gold and argent."
Sally unstrapped the staff object from her and held it out in her hands for all to see. "I have no idea. Beautiful though."
Ken and Lola couldn't resist letting their hands run over the staff object. It was smooth. It turned rough in certain spots. It had a few buttons. Ken pushed one.
A bubble shot out from one end, hitting the sliding glass door and expanding to the hight of six feet tall and wide. Its width was as thin as a piece of paper. A blue-ish, purple-ish, and black color could be seen collapsing in on itself repeatedly within the radius of the object in front of them.
Lola was the first to speak. "What the fuck is that?"
Before anyone responded, argentine tentacles came out from the depths of the structure in front of them. They lingered in front of the three of them, swaying back-and-forth like a cat following its favorite toy.
"Oh, fuck no," Ken said taking steps back.
The tentacles shot out and wrapped each one of Ken's, Sally's, and Lola's legs and started to pull them into the object. Each person let out a scream; each person panicked; each person grabbed something to beat the argentine tentacles with. Each person was pulled into the object.
Upon their immediate entry, the object shrunk down to its original size and retreated back into the staff object from which it originated.
The house was quiet.
An argillaceous odor woke Sally. She blinked her eyes open, they wanted to remain shut like they were trapped. They couldn't focus. She noticed she was lying down on her right side. She pushed herself up, the room began to spin slightly so she took her time, letting the spins settle as she got up. She was seated now with her head in her hands.
"Oh, good," said a voice, one that Sally slightly recognized. "You're awake. The sickness will wear off."
Sally bent forward and barf up what she'd for breakfast.
"Yeah, I did that too," said the voice. It wasn't Lola's or Ken's. "That is an Argonautical trip for sure." The voice paused for a brief moment. "We're going to have to move. Argus, this giant creature with a hundred eyes, is close by. No doubt he heard you drop in."
"What about the others?" Sally said through the dripping bits of puke.
"It appears they've already been found. They're probably stung up in the Capital, the Great Alfayrus Almutanaqil, which is a day's walk from here. Argus hates visitors."
The stranger picked up Sally, putting her on her feet, and had Sally throw an arm around her.
"I can't see."
"That will come back. Just walk for now."
As the two were headed in a direction that Sally could not see, Sally asked, "Who are you and where are we?"
"We are in the arid wasteland of that bleeding sand rock that I gave you."
Sally stopped moving forward. She touched the stranger's face with her hands, looking for signs that she was telling the truth. Where was the nose ring? She found it. What about the eyebrow ring. She found that too. "No. Wait. What? How?" Breeze? Can it be ... really you?"
"We need to keep moving." Breeze forced Sally's hands out of her face and continue to lead the way.
"Talk to me. I'm scared."
"Well, you know how I got here. It was the same way you did. I was at your house waiting for you. I found the staff. I pushed a button and was dragged here to this place, a never-ending nightmare filled with worms that burrow into your psyche feeding themselves off the fear they help create." Her voice got softer and had a sad ariose quality to it. "Argus is the leader and the worst of all of them."
"We searched for you everywhere, Breeze."
"Not everywhere, until now that is."
The words stung at Sally's heart. How could she have known where to look? No one in the world would be able to figure this out unless by chance.
They walked on in silence for what seemed like miles to Sally. Her vision was getting better. Her long lost friend and the scenery around were finally starting to take shape. The sick feeling was waning. Her body was almost ready to bear its own weight.
"Where are we going?" Sally finally asked. She was guided to duck her head.
"To get out of here."
"How do you intend on doing that?"
"It can be compared to aristology."
Sally didn't like the sound of that.
Breeze brought them up to a house. It was made of hard-packed clay, leaves from the surrounding foliage was used as the roof's top, and the door was made of the same silver color of the tentacles that grab Sally and her friends.
Breeze pushed the door open and sat Sally down on a chair next to the table once inside. Breeze went to what looked like an ark, wrapping around the sides of it were depictions of worms sucking the brains out of human skulls, and pulled out something from within and put it into a container and set it down in front of Sally. The container was crawling with life that couldn't escape the bowl they were contained in.
"Eat," said Breeze.
Sally felt her stomach churn once more. She poked at the small creates with a pair of chopsticks. "I think I'll pass."
"Eat." Breeze said harshly.
"Don't you have a cheesebu..."
Breeze cut off Sally. "No. Eat."
"I'd rather not."
"The isn't up for argumentation."
Breeze looked as if she was about ready to pounce on Sally like a lion coming out of the thick Sahara grass. Sally did quick calculations in her head and deduced that Breeze had the upper hand.
"Tastes like chicken."
Sally looked at her old friend in the eye and saw that her eyes were glossed over. Must be from being in here so long, she guessed.
Sally poked at one of the critters, a small round one that was multi-colored and looked like a caterpillar, with a chopstick. Her friend's eyes could be felt burning into her forehead. She picked up the critter with the chopsticks. Her friend's teeth could be heard clacking together. She put the critter in front of her mouth.
Sally put the critter in her mouth and started to chew.
Breeze began to relax. "There now. Isn't that better? Oh, come now. Don't put on the face of an Arkie."
Sally found it hard to swallow, the warm slime that slid down her throat brought about the reflex to gag but she fended it off. After a few moments though, her stomach began to feel better. She started to feel hungry and the critters started to look delicious. She could not help but have some more, each swallow giving her energy back.
Satisfied, Sally sat back and laid her arms on the armrest and let out a sigh. Her stomach was round from being so full. She felt great.
"What happens now?" asked Sally. "Can we go get my friends and get out of this place?"
Sally's attention was redirected to the armadillo bugs that began filing into the house through the crack of the doorway. Once they were a few inches in, they rolled themselves up into a ball and began stacking on top of one another until the figure of a man took shape.
Breeze dropped to her knees and bowed her head while Sally sat in the chair frozen, unable to move even a finger, lacking the armature to protect herself psychically in this strange, new world.
An armband formed on the arm of the giant human-like armadillo bugs body. It was the depiction of a worm, much like the ones found on the ark.
"Did she eat?" asked the creature, its voice big and boomy.
"Yes, your Greatness," Breeze said. "All of it."
The creature opened the ark to see if she was telling the truth. Empty. He strode over to the table where the container was and looked inside. Empty.
Sally was still frozen.
"No tricks?" asked the creature.
"No, your Greatness," answered Breeze. "No tricks."
The creature sniffed the air. It had a way of detecting deception by the way that the air smelled around the ones who dared to lie in its presents. Its senses were satisfied.
"Argus will be pleased to hear," the creature stated.
"He said that when I've delivered all three that I may return home. Is this still true?" Breeze didn't dare look up for the answer.
Sally remained speechless and the horror of having to stay in this place with this creature and the one called Argus pressed on her mind like a ten-ton anvil.
The creature rubbed its makeshift face with its hand. It sighed. "Oh, fine." It waved its hand. When it did, the same portal that brought Breeze, Sally, and her friends here opened up. "But, don't say a word on your way out or else ..." he paused, a smile formed across the creature's face.
"Breeze?!?" choked out Sally through her tight vocal cords as she watched Breeze stand up and head for the portal.
Breeze pretended the best that she could that she didn't hear her old friend call after her. She couldn't stay one more minute in this place. A sacrifice had to made. Could she live with the choice is the question she didn't know and couldn't face right now.
"Breeze!" shouted out Sally as she watched her old friend disappear into the portal. Before she knew what she was doing, her body jolted up and out of the chair toward the portal. The portal disappeared about an inch away from Sally as she leaped toward it. She smacked hard into the clay wall.
The creature laughed. "It won't be that easy. We have yet to arm you. After that, you can go. Now, get up and follow me."
The creature began to break down in size to the millions of single armadillos it had entered as and started to file out to the outside underneath the doorway.
Sally, who did her best to resist, couldn't resist the pull that made her follow the creature.