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Their roar reverberated along the valley-like walls that protected the highway from the lesser roadways. One black bear stood atop the west wall and another patrolled the east, overlooking the highway from above. The one at the west was Jack, and the one at the east was his older brother Tod. Mighty roars climbed through their throats, escaping from their maws into our own secret world. The black bears cries seemed to voice a fear.
Down below, there were no cars to be found, but light gusts of wind still whipped through the vast expanse as though their presence still lingered. Tod and Jack seemed slightly disconcerted, because they could see the wind throwing little scraps of parchment and debris all along the highway, but there was no wind where they stood. The air was stagnant and every hair on their bodies stayed in place, unswayed by mother nature.
Street lamps flickered to life along the walkways on which the beasts stood. It was dusk now and the soft hum of artificial luminance filled the bears' ears. Jack turned to look at the light before pivoting his gaze back to the highway, awaiting an arrival that was long past due. He watched a ripped section of newspaper as it was swept from place to place along the dark highway, getting lost in its sways and loops through the ghostly air.
Suddenly, a behemoth's cry seared the night. Jack's head turned so quickly to find the cause of the sound, that his neck nearly snapped right off. He blinked at the discomfort before seeing his brother leaping over the wall's railing, falling through the atmosphere.
Surely, he wouldn't make it...
Surely, he hadn't been thinking...
Surely he was dreaming and this didn't just happen...
But Tod hit the ground running and Jack had no choice but to go after him.
Down below, a boy and a girl moved across the deserted highway. It felt like they had been walking for days, like their feet had been worn right off so that ankle was all that was left. Ghosts seemed to swirl all around them, and even the boy said, “I'm scared,” because it seemed that there were a million sick sinners whispering into his ears, though there was only one silhouette walking with him. Her hair was held up in a messy ponytail, a tired attempt at keeping her hair from getting caught in the sweat accumulating along the back of her neck, but the degree of discomfort couldn't possibly get much greater.
“Can you remember where we were yet?” she asked, not wanting to press the issue. She didn't want to pester him by asking him the same questions over and over again, so she had been mostly quiet for the last few hours.
“No,” the boy sighed with dark circles under his eyes. “I don't remember being anywhere. I just remember... I remember the sound of crying... but that's it.”
“That's all I remember, too. And I remember the headlights going out last night.” The two had pulled over to the shoulder for some reason or another, neither could remember why. After a few minutes of sitting in the stagnant car, their headlights went out and the blackness of night seemed to push through the windshield and smother them for a moment. The boy turned off the engine for a minute or two and when he brought it back to life, the headlights came on again. However, something unusual had happened while they had been trapped in darkness: all the vehicles on the highway had vanished. Then, the headlights went out again. That's when the crying started.
“Yeah,” he said, taking another exhausted step. “That's right.”
“I'm sorry,” she said. She didn't know why she said, because she really wasn't all that sorry. It was just something she did to continue a conversation.
“I don't know,” she replied with her eyes on the road.
He sighed again. “Don't be. It's not your fault. This isn't anybody's fault.”
She stopped and embraced him. Her body was so tired that she almost collapsed into his. “I'm tired,” she said quietly.
He wrapped his arms around her, and being stuck together like that made them feel not so tired, and not so hopeless. “Okay. Let's sit down for a little bit.”
“Okay,” she replied as he pulled her over to the shoulder. He leaned against the wall, and she leaned against him.
“Are you scared?” he asked. His brown eyes were pointed at the opposite wall. It seemed so far away without all the racing vehicles. Everything seemed so far away. Except for the girl. She was close.
“Not so much anymore.” she said. “I'm more tired than scared.”
“Oh,” he said. “You can go to sleep if you want. I'll be right here.”
“Will you go to sleep with me?”
“No.” He shook his head. “I have to stay awake.”
“Why?” she questioned, moving her head to look into his face.
“So that I know nothing's going to happen to you. You can go to sleep, though. I'm right here.”
“I love you,” she said.
“I love you, too,” he answered, and she fell asleep.
Its cries were muffled by the polar bear's fur. The baby was safe and warm, protected inside of the animal's embrace, but something didn't feel right. So the baby kept on screaming. The mother bear was so scared of the little one's cries bouncing off the walls and traveling down the highway... so scared that she practically smothered the baby in an attempt to stop the noise.
The last thing that she wanted was for those people to find her. Then they would take away her baby. They would say it was theirs, but she knew better. She knew that it was her son. He belonged to her. That's why she had to keep the baby quiet: so that he wouldn't give them away.
There weren't as many ghosts where the two of them laid. The polar bear was wrapped tightly around the baby to protect him from the sick sinners of the past. She had carried him in her mouth onto an exit ramp many miles away from where she had found him. The spirits didn't travel along those much, so she thought that was the best place to hide away.
But just when the baby began to quiet down, a massive cry tore through their momentary serenity. The mother bear turned her head to find what monster had emerged from the darkness. What she saw put a deep fear into her eyes. A large black bear was making its way up the exit ramp, teeth bared and eyes wild with anger. His paws made heavy thuds on the concrete, and it was obvious that he wasn't scared of being heard. And just beyond him, the polar bear could see another, similar beast pounding away in his tracks.
The girl awoke in the early hours of the next morning to find that the boy had fallen asleep after all. She smiled and shook him awake.
“Hello,” he said, grogginess evident in his voice.
“Hello,” she replied. “I thought you were going to stay awake.”
“Oh... I got tired...”
Both of them stood up and began walking again. The girl had no idea where exactly they were going, but somehow it seemed like they were doing what they were supposed to do. Beneath their feet, gray cement seemed to move backwards right under them; and, in the air, there didn't seem to be as many sick spirits swimming through their hair and sneaking into their ears.
“Have you figured out where we're going yet?” she asked the boy.
“Not really... we'll know when we get there.”
An overpass was looming above them and when they walked under it, all the light from the street lamps above seemed to vanish completely. All the dead things that swung through the breeze did not pass through there and everything felt like it was supposed to be. So they stood there, huddled close together, wanting nothing more than to be like that one solitary moment for the rest of their life.
Then, the girl suddenly felt someone brush against her, and she swung her head around. She felt the boy's grip around her tighten slightly when they saw what had walked by. Right there, growing smaller every second, was a middle-aged man walking hand in hand with a little girl with blond hair. Neither was making a sound, but they didn't need to. The girl knew who they were, and the boy had an idea.
Watching the man being swallowed up by the distance tugged at the girl's heart in such a way that it pushed her feet forward. Without even thinking, she was running towards her father and her younger self, screaming “Daddy! Daddy!” However, he did not turn around.
“Stop!” the boy cried. “Come back!”
The closer the girl got to him, the more the air seemed to swirl around them. It felt like it was shoving her and pulling her into her father, dragging her backwards in time. Her eyes could not be deterred from the man whom she had desired to see for so many years. To see him so close almost made it feel like she was being born again... She wanted so badly to reach out and touch his skin... just to know that he was real... that he was really there.
“What are you doing?! Stop it!”
She could her the boy's cries, but she didn't care. He could wait. It had been too long since she had seen her father. She reached out her hand in attempt to grab a hold of him. All she wanted was for him to look at her.... so that he knew that she existed...
But before she reconnected with her father, she was pulled violently away onto the concrete. When she looked up again, he was gone.
“What were you doing?!” asked the boy.
“I just wanted to see him again...” she whispered, disliking the way he was yelling. He sensed how she was feeling and immediately calmed down.
“I know,” he whispered back.
“You made him go away...”
“No I didn't.... He was sucking you into the past. And you don't wanna get caught up in the past. It just complicates things. You were becoming that little girl again. He was pulling you away... That was the scariest thing that has ever happened to me.”
“But I miss him...”
“I know you do. But he's in the past. You have to look into the future... with me.”
The polar bear was left behind, nothing more than roadkill in a deserted life. Crimson tainted its fur and her cries still seemed to mingle amongst the spirits swirling off the ramp. To the brothers, she was nothing more than a bloody stain on their time-line.
Tod continued to lead the way, his feet pounding heavily on the cement. The older brother had left Jack with the burden of carrying the crying human the rest of the way. Jack walked more quietly than Tod did, the baby boy held securely in his maw. He kind of liked walking behind his brother because his loud feet made the ghosts separate to let the two bears through.
Somehow, his older brother taking charge made Jack feel safer. He hoped that he was making the baby feel the same way...
The boy and girl had been walking since about three O'clock that morning when the sound of heavy footsteps reached their ears. It sounded like a giant was running around on the freeway. Both of them stopped in their tracks, feeling the road shake beneath their feet. After a second or two, a tiny pinprick appeared in the distance. As it grew closer, they saw that is was fuzzy and black.
“What is that?” the boy asked.
“It's Tod!” she cried, running towards the giant bear. He sprinted after her.
Tod reached them first and when the three of them were reunited, the bear collapsed on the ground. He was panting from exhaustion, so the girl laid down with him, just happy to see him again.
That's when she heard the crying. The same sound that she had heard on the night that this had all began... She looked up to see Jack not very far away. But it wasn't just Jack; it was a baby too. The boy got to the bear first and took the baby out of his mouth. He looked down at the tiny human like he suddenly understood everything, like he knew everything that needed to be done. When the girl went over to them, the baby stopped crying and everything was quiet.
Then, the streetlights came on. One by one, they flickered to life until a flash of blinding white light filled their eyes. And when they reopened them, they were in the most crowded room they had ever been in, but they were more alone than they had been in their entire lives. They were both staring down at the smallest casket they had ever seen...