Annie switched the television off and pressed the pads of her fingers over her eyelids. She didn’t know why she kept it on, it had been showing static for 24 hours now. It was because she still had hope, but for how long, she wondered? She pressed harder until she began to feel the pressure build up behind her eyes until she could see nothing but blackness. She was exhausted, but she feared falling asleep. That’s when they came.
She went to the window and shivered as her eyes roved over the deserted street. The bare tree branches brushed against her window panes like skeletal fingers. She looked at the flat across from hers all the lights were on. Everyone had been afraid to sleep since everything had happened. But everyone had to succumb to sleep eventually and that inevitable fact made her want to lie down and admit defeat, but she didn’t. She went to the kitchen and made another coffee.
She read the newspaper headline for the hundredth time:
‘Miller Corp. test new prototype that could see the end of human error margin.’
She scrunched the paper between her fingers and flung it across the room. The end of the human error margin? More like the end of humanity. None of it mattered anymore if it ever had. They’d taken over everything. Had it really been only 28 hours ago? Time passed so much slower without sleep. Someone knocked her door. Her heart leapt into her mouth and her intestines writhed queasily. No. But she was awake, wasn’t she? She stood, her entire body trembling as her bare feet padded soundlessly against the cool floorboards. She tentatively peered through the peephole. It was Adam. Or was it? She couldn’t risk opening the door to anyone. Trust no one. They said that The Replacers could replace people so completely that even husbands and wives wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. She doubted that. They could replicate memories, but not feelings or emotions, right?
“C’mon, open up. I know you’re there.”
She gasped at the sound of his deep rough voice. She’d missed him, but she couldn’t risk it. What if he’d been replaced? She covered over the peephole with her thumb blocking his shaggy black hair from view. He looked like hell. His hair was lank and unwashed, his stubble becoming a scruffy beard, deep purple shadows were blossoming beneath his eyes. She supposed she didn’t look much better. Her heart ached. Oh how he wished she could open the door.
“When was the first time you knew you loved me?” she asked quietly, her voice wavering. She uncovered the peephole and watched for his reaction. He sighed.
“Are we really doing this? I’m not one of them. Do I look like I’ve slept?”
Annie bit her lip, deliberating.
He sighed again in defeat rolling his eyes. Annie’s lips curved into a smile. That was so Adam. But it wasn’t enough.
“It was in the line to go see that Ballet you wanted to see. It was snowing and you were wearing a strapless dress so I gave you my coat. It was freezing and I hate ballet but I realised in that queue that I would do anything as long as it meant I got to be with you.”
Annie felt tears prick at her stinging eyes and she felt the last of her resolve crumble. She unbolted the door and flung her arms around his neck, letting her tears soak through his shirt. She inhaled slowly as she felt his warm hands at her waists. He smelled like him. He felt like him. He couldn’t be a Replacer. She refused to believe that.
“Let’s get out of here. We can go somewhere they won’t find us,” he said softly as his hands stroked through her red curls gently. Those were his fingers. She knew the touch so well.
“Where? They’re everywhere.”
Adam gripped her tighter.
“No. We can fight back. We’re going underground. A whole bunch of us. We can beat them if we stay together.”
Annie nodded against his chest. It was a long shot, but anything was better than waiting for the inevitable. They weaved like shadows through her deserted street. The smell of rotting pumpkins filled the chilly night air. The sickeningly sweet smell cloyed in her throat. She looked on her neighbour’s doorsteps to see the blackening, macabre jack o’ lanterns with a mocking grin carved into their skin. In the end we’ll all be replaced. she thought. She hardened her resolve. No. Not without a fight. She gripped Adam’s reassuringly warm and calloused fingers before getting into her car.
The car stuttered to a halt. It was strange to think there was no way to get more now. All of the things they’d taken for granted. Annie’s breath clouded in the chilly night air as she wrapped her coat around herself tighter. Adam’s door slammed closed clumsily and they began to walk. Their footsteps echoed in the stillness. How silent the world was now.
“Where are we going?” she asked as they hastened onwards through deserted country lanes, their boots crushing frost covered leaves with every step.
“Where we’ll be safe.”
Annie felt her stomach clench nervously.
Was anywhere safe from the Replacers? She didn’t know. But this was better than waiting and, as she clung closer to Adam, she was thankful that she wasn’t alone.
They continued on as the moon rose pale and ghostly in the sky. They stopped at the stone steps to the library. Annie had spent a lot of time here at university, but it looked strangely out of place now. The Replacers would have no need for such relics as books. She wondered how much longer buildings like this would survive. The glow of the lights from within illuminated their path and she could make out figures moving within behind the frosted window panes. She froze.
“There are people in there,” she whispered, tugging Adam’s hand back. He smiled reassuringly.
“Why would Replacers go to a library? They already know everything about us. Those people are just like us. They can help.”
Annie hesitated but nodded as she inhaled shakily and let Adam lead her inside.
The lights went out. Annie gasped and squeezed Adam’s hand as they made their way through entrance.
“The Replacers must have finally cut the power off,” he said, gesturing outside. The streetlamps were off too and as they looked back into the city there was only blackness. They began to hear whispers in the dark and they followed them.
Annie shivered as they weaved between the rows of musty books. The smell was so familiar yet this situation wasn’t. A small group of people crowded around a table with a single candle on it. Their whispering ceased as Annie and Adam entered. The silence stretched on as they scrutinized one another. A tall, wiry woman with intelligent hazel eyes and a black, silky bob streaked with grey stood and walked towards them in the dim, orange glow. The candle flame flickered ominously.
“They seem normal enough but there’s only one way to be sure,” the woman said, stepping towards them and producing a small pin from her pocket. Annie gasped and made to run, but she found her arms were locked behind her back before she had time to react. She wriggled, but the hands on her wrist were too strong.
“Adam!”s he screamed. He was creepily still. She frowned. What was going on? Her heart was knocking against her ribcage. The woman with the intelligent eyes gave her a soft smile.
“This will only hurt for a second.”
She desperately tried to break away as the woman’s hand gripped her thumb until it was purple and pricked her thumb. She watched as the scarlet bead of blood formed on the tip.
Annie scowled at the tall blonde man that had been restraining her as she rubbed her tender wrist and sucked her thumb, tasting the iron on her tongue. She heard a commotion break out as the candle guttered out, plunging the place into darkness. Before her eyes even had time to adjust she saw the glimmer of Adam’s eyes. Only they weren’t Adam’s eyes. They shone silvery in the darkness. Camera lenses peering out of the beautiful face she loved. No.
“He’s a Replacer! Quick, the eyes!”
The group tackled him to the floor and she began to scream and run towards him only to be knocked to the ground.
“No, stop!” she shouted.
“He’s one of them now. Stop,” whispered a rough voice in her ear as hot, calloused fingers encircled her wrists once more. She let out an anguished cry as she heard the dull thud of flesh being hit hard. She screwed her eyes shut and let the tears roll down her cheeks. This couldn’t be happening.
“Did you get the eyes?” asked a voice.
There was a scurrying of footsteps and then the striking of a match. The orange glow returned to the room and she awkwardly twisted her head and opened her eyes. Her heart pounded as her eyes adjusted. She felt bile rise in her throat as she saw him lying on the floor. She wriggled against her captor.
“Let her go,” said the woman.
She leapt to her feet, ignoring the black spots dancing in front of her vision as she ran to him and lowered a shaking pale hand to his shoulder. She rolled him over and her hand flew to her mouth. His eyes were vacant, empty steel sockets glimpses of exposed wiring only barely visible. His mouth gaped open and she saw the exposed panel at the back of his neck where they’d disconnected him. She let the tears flow faster as her trembling fingers ruffled his hair. He still felt like him. She began to tremble all over. She hadn’t known he’d been replaced. She felt sick to her stomach. Annie stumbled to the floor and rubbed her arms furiously.
“He saw all of us before we could get the lenses out. They’ll be coming for us,” said the woman with the bobbed hair as she sparked up a cigarette and took a long draw before letting the smoke out of her nostrils slowly.
“What do we do?” asked Annie quietly as she raised her watery eyes to her. She gave her a soft smile.
“We keep moving,” she said, hopping from the table with her little band of followers. Annie sat alone in the flickering candlelight unwilling to look at what had once been Adam. She stood clenching her trembling cold fingers into fists and finding strength she was unaware she possessed, she put one foot in front of the other and kept on moving.
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