The world had decided a long time ago that if you couldn’t produce something naturally that it could be created in a lab, or that if it wasn’t enjoyable in its original state, it could be redefined. While this was an optimistic attitude to have towards obstacles and injustice it became a double-edged sword. Long gone were the days of peaceful protests or simple disagreements. Interactions among human kind had become so delicate that one conversation could send someone into a murderous rage. Those that chose to not participate in the fights ended up locked in their homes ordering food for delivery and peering into their phones as if their salvation was contained inside. Instead of salvation, their minds were only being fed with what they wanted to hear and all other voices of hope were swiped into the abyss of deleted and blocked content.
Despite the state of the world, there was one doctor that hadn’t lost hope yet. He had discovered that faith could be grown in a lab and raised in home in the surrounding area. He garnered followers in secret to help improve his creations and train them up to be warriors of hope in a lost world. With his discoveries he was able to create a child that grew into an adult exponentially fast while maintaining their childlike acceptance of others and keeping their endless joy. When Amana was created nobody foresaw the unexpected complications that would be involved. As an infant, instead of crying when in pain, she politely told her doctors what was ailing her. She was able to reason in her own head what was acceptable to be upset over and what wasn’t. As a toddler she didn’t seem to argue and fuss like the other kids her age. Her sense of humor was highly developed and her play instincts very refined. These skills enabled her to get along wonderfully with her caretakers but children her own age generally shunned her out of fear or jealousy. She was developing a lot stronger than any of the other previous creations.
When she became an adult, which instead of 18 years, it took only a 4 years, she was registered to be sent away to a secret training base in Chicago. Despite the relatively short span of time she had lived with her caretakers, she had already become attached.
As she prepared herself to leave Gurdie came up to Amana and wrapped her muscled forearms around the slim girl. “We’ll miss you.” Her other caretaker Ben nodded in agreement.
“I’ll miss you both too.” Amana sighed as she leaned back to look at Gurdie. The woman’s eyes were filling with tears. “Aw, Gurdie. It’ll be fine. I was made to leave.”
Her caretaker began to bawl and Ben reached out to pat her on the back. You wouldn’t know it by their behavior but the two had been married for 20 years. Ben still seemed uncomfortable with his wife’s emotional spells though and Amana never understood that. With an unsurpassable amount of warmth the girl wrapped her arms around the distraught woman again and held her until the crying stopped.
“I love you.” The two said in unison. They broke apart and smiled at one another.
“Stay brave.” Ben reminded Amana.
“I will.” Amana had faith that everything would all work out. That’s why she was made. To have faith.
Since starting the program they had built an underground train system that took each creation from one facility to another in only a few hours. Amana boarded the train along with other beings like her. She made an executive decision to sit next to a girl with long black hair, dark eyes, and black clothing. She was wired to be attracted to people that needed her and the dark girl sitting alone appeared to need some kind of company.
“Mind if I sit?”
“Just don’t talk.” The girl said.
“That’s fine.” Amana smiled. “In case of emergencies though, what’s your name?”
“My name is Amana. What were you created for?”
“Nothing and I said no talking.”
Amana tried not to be offended but she had been perfectly nice to this girl. She had a hard time reconciling the fact that she wanted to lash out and be angry but she knew that wasn’t right. Living her life simply by feelings was not how she was raised.
“I understand.” Amana smiled to conceal how upset she was and buried her face in a book. She was only pretending to read though. Her ears were tuned to all the conversations going on around her. It was a small group of about twenty and all of them seemed far more interested in forming friendships than Willa. It was unfortunate that Amana had sat next to the one girl raised in a cynical environment. She had heard her caretakers whisper about the cynical ones that had to be redesigned and sent back to training for a second time because they were unable to stay hopeful. Maybe Willa was disappointed she had failed. Amana kept silent for almost an entire hour then said, “Everybody is created for something. Maybe you just haven’t figured it out yet.”
“Bet you were designed to blow sunshine up…”
Before Willa could finish the train began slowing down. Amana felt no fear but she was very aware that this wasn’t supposed to happen. They were still in the tunnel. She was the first to stand up and rush to the front of their train car. The engine car no longer had any light shining out of the windows. Other creations elbowed their way next to her to see what was going on.
“I’m going to go check it out.” Amana said.
“Did we break down?” A man who looked barely young enough to be one of the chosen approached Amana and followed her concerned gaze.
“Not for good.” She replied with certainty. “Maybe this is part of the training.”
“I doubt it. This is the second time I’ve been on this train and this has never happened.” Amana hadn’t seen a lot in her lifetime yet but with the environment she had been raised in she had never seen somebody with so much despair in their eyes.
“I’m going in. In case of emergencies what’s your name?” Amana asked the man.
“Eilif.” He said.
“Thanks, Eilif. I’ll be back.” Amana had at her side Spirit. It was a sword she was given to defend against all types of attacks. The worst of the threats were Shadow People.
“What’s your name?” Eilif asked.
“Amana.” She smiled and raised her voice, “Everybody, don’t worry! I’m going to check out the engine car. Stay calm.” Everybody obeyed and sat back in their seats to continue talking and laughing. She slid out the exit onto the platform and pulled a small flashlight from her pant’s pocket to focus the beam on the platform across from her.
“You’re not going alone.” Eilif had followed and behind him was an angry looking Willa. “If this is a test should we don’t want to fail again.”
Amana smiled really big. The trio stepped across from car to car and opened up the door to the engine compartment. The automatic console glowed dimly and pulsated as if trying to communicate in Morse code that it was dying. Eilif went straight for the monitors to check for loose plugs or frayed wires. Willa gazed around with a lost expression and Amana flew around the room running her flashlight beam over everything, searching for a clue as to why the train was no longer moving.
Amana thought that this was the first trial of many to come but the real test of her faith came as a complete shock. As the trio searched for the answer to the failed engine they heard the sound of cracking walls and felt the earth shift. The ground started with swallowing the caboose first and greedily devouring the second and third car. They could barely see as they barreled out the door while dirt and pebbles rained down from the ceiling on their heads. Amana led the way with her flashlight as they raced through the tunnel. She glanced back to see the rest of the train fall into darkness.
Adrenaline pumping and her heart pounding in her ears made it hard for her to feel mournful the loss of 17 other creations designed to bring hope to the world but she did say a prayer as she ran. As they rounded a corner her flashlight crossed over an opening in the wall. She motioned to the others to follow. Her feet found the stairs that lead to the possibility of freedom. Dirt rained down on them in earnest and in the distance more crashing could be heard as the entire underground railroad system collapsed in on itself. Suddenly, Amana’s head slammed against a wooden door locked with a padlock.
“Why did you stop?!” Willa shrieked.
“It’s locked.” Amana declared.
Without hesitation she pulled Spirit from its sheath and used the thin tip of the blade to break open the lock. With surprising strength she pushed open the doors and immediately felt cold drops of rain pitter patter on her face. They were in a forest with trees that were being bowed down by the wind. Amana sheathed the sword and marched north towards an opening in the trees. It was only a few minutes until they found themselves entering a school playground. The skies above were filled with black clouds tinged with burgundy because of the twilight and far on the horizon lightning flickered followed by quietly grumbling thunder. When the wind began picking up and the rain beat down faster, Amana grasped the elbows of her companions.
It was nearly an hour the group walked down sidewalk after sidewalk to try and find a business or government building to seek shelter from the torrential downpour. When they reached the end of the storm, night had fallen but the light of the moon was enough to be able to see and there were a line of city lights in the distance.
Willa shivered uncontrollably. “We’re never going to make it to Chicago.”
“Never is an exaggeration.” Amana said cheerfully.
“It’s going to take a long time.” Eilif ran his hands through his wet mop head of hair.
“You won’t pass training with that attitude. Nobody likes a grump.” Amana said this to encourage but it only served to bring the mood down further.
“So we’re not important unless we’re happy all the time?” Willa demanded.
“I didn’t say that.” Amana said quickly. Willa’s bad mood was starting to wear on Amana. “You’re going to get through training. You know, we should find someplace to rest for the night.”
“We have to be careful. Some hotels demand that everybody be scanned first.” Eilif warned.
“Scanned?” Amana asked.
“They can tell when you’ve been grown in a lab. Some cities are hostile towards our kind.”
“Why would they be? We’re bringing hope.” Amana turned on her heel and continued her hike to the unfamiliar city. Willa and Eilif followed with a healthy amount of skepticism.
This city was no Chicago but there were a few 12 story buildings here and there. At the late hour the roads were quiet except for one green Toyota Camry headed for the outskirts of town and a stray dog in a back alley looking for leftovers. The trio walked down Main Street a mile before reaching a strip that had a 24 hour Walgreen’s, a Denny’s, and the only Best Western for miles.
“I’m hungry.” Willa whined.
“I could eat.” Eilif chimed in.
“It looks like the Denny’s is open.” Amana conceded.
The three of them entered the air conditioned restaurant shivering and dripping water all over the floor. Soft classic rock played on the radio. The restaurant appeared deserted. In a few seconds a door slammed at the back of the place and a small, flustered woman with a neck tattoo of a rattlesnake and several missing teeth hurried to greet the guests. Around her neck hung a turquoise e-cig and her fake pink fingernails tapped it absentmindedly.
“How many?” She asked.
“Three.” Eilif said, stepping forward.
“Booth or table.”
“Booth.” Willa interjected.
Like a shot the woman marched her little legs to the back of the restaurant where a freshly cleaned booth sat. Amana sat on one side and Willa and Eilif sat across from her. The waitress, who’s name was Pam, took their drink orders and left.
The weight of everything suddenly hit Amana like an oncoming car. Her fellow creations had all been killed in a strange accident and she had no idea how far the training center was from where they were at. The problem was that since it was at a hidden location they couldn’t ask for directions.
“How far do you think Chicago is from here?” Amana asked Eilif and Willa.
“I’d say it’s still a good 9 hours away.” Eilif said.
“I’ll be back.” Willa stood up and made a beeline for the restroom.
“She doesn’t seem like she’s doing well.” Eilif said when she was out of earshot.
“This is your second time and you seem to be composed.” Amana grasped a strand of her beautiful hair and twirled it thoughtfully.
“I’ve accepted my fate either way. I get to either be an advocate for a lie or be terminated telling the truth.”
“Here, babe.” Pam set down Eilif’s water with a smile and placed Amana’s down without even looking at her. “Here.”
“Thanks.” The two said in unison.
“Do, you need more time to make up your mind?” Amana timidly picked up a menu and Eilif nodded. “I’ll give you a few minutes.”
When Pam was gone Amana slapped down her menu and said, “You don’t believe that do you?”
“I do.” He raised a critical eyebrow.
“Hope has gone into hiding. We have to bring it out into the open. I was told that we might even have to wage war against the Shadow People to save the world from despair. I’m not scared to fight for what I believe.” She picked up the menu again and flipped through it.
“I’m not afraid to fight either but I have no motivation to fight. I know that I was only created to carry a specific message. It just happens to be a message I don’t agree with anymore.” He shrugged.
He was quiet for a moment then sighed. “When they sent me to training I was hopeful. It’s very easy to lose that hope when one of your trainers murders an entire group of trainees for no reason. I remember looking into the darkness in this man’s eyes and I could feel nothing but fear. I managed to escape but they sent me back to be reconditioned because I had been “corrupted”. Being reconditioned only healed the physical damage caused by the traumatic experience but it didn’t erase the memories.” As he recounted this story he zipped up his jacket and shoved his hands in the pockets. “After losing everybody I knew and barely surviving I don’t have a lot of faith anymore.”
“Me neither.” Willa quipped. “What are you talking about?”
“Nothing important. I said I don’t have a lot of hope for this world.” Eilif shrugged.
“Why did they send you back?” Amana asked Willa.
The dark eyed girl sipped at her Pepsi and looked deep in thought. “I had a caretaker that barely passed her evaluation to become a trainer. There were certain qualities she had that went unnoticed until later. She taught me all the secret things she knew.” Willa laughed a short bark like laugh and continued drinking.
“You all ready?” It was Pam again and she already had her pad of paper and a pen ready to go.
They all ordered and when the waitress was gone Willa said, “She was a witch or so she said.”
“A witch?” Amana asked.
“She communicated with the Shadow People and commanded them to do what she wanted. I think she was crazy because I never saw her successfully do anything like that.” Willa laughed again.
Amana shifted the conversation in an attempt to lighten the mood. The three discussed plans for how to get to Chicago and what they would do for the night. They all agreed that they would make any final decisions after they had slept a whole night.
When they received their food they ate in silence. For Amana it was her first meal she had ever had out in the real world. She had no idea why she hadn’t been introduced to a cheese quesadilla before this. It was heavenly.
“How can people despair when there are foods like this?” Amana closed her eyes.
For the first time Eilif laughed. “You’re something.”
They finished their late-night meal, paid, and walked back out into the night. Thankfully the hotel didn’t have any scanners. There was a pale man with huge black eyebrows that shaded his dark green eyes. He looked like he had just left his coffin for some fresh air. His lips were dark enough they appeared black. Amana attempted to engage him in conversation but he refused to play along. He asked all the standard questions and soon they had a room.
“Don’t hesitate to call if you need anything.” He said pointedly.
“Thank you, sir.” Amana said.
Their room was on the ground level not too far from the pool or, to Eilif’s delight, the vending machine. There were two full sized beds, ugly carpets with an odd leafy design, and high ceilings. Willa and Amana shared a bed and Eilif sprawled out on the one closest to the window as he muttered something about being hot natured.
They all fell asleep quickly but Amana woke up suddenly a few hours later when she realized Willa was no longer next to her. Gray light played behind the filmy white curtains. Her pillows were on the floor. Eilif was snoring. Amana tried to climb out of her bed but found Spirit still attached to her belt. After a bit of maneuvering she got up and slipped on her shoes.
Amana headed towards the lobby to where she expected the strange girl to be. Her intuition led her to the door to the pool room that was ajar. Her suspicions were confirmed when she saw the top of the water rippling.
“Willa?” Amana called as she approached the water’s edge.
The sight before her was startling. The girl was sitting Indian style at the very bottom of the pool, no bubbles rising to the surface. An inky black substance was streaming out of the tips of her fingers, toes, and hair. Amana circled the spot to try and get a look at her face. The girl’s eyes, which were already dark, were now completely black along with her lips and the veins on her neck.
Amana held in a scream as she hurried to rouse Eilif. When she was back in the hotel room she flipped on the side table lamp and shook him fiercely.
“Eilif. Eilif. Eilif!!” He opened his eyes wide and searched Amana’s face. In a moment he registered that something was wrong. “Follow me!” He did wordlessly. They both reached the pool’s edge and Willa was still there like a spider hiding in its web. “Is she a Shadow?”
“No…” Eilif shook his head. “She’s poisoned by them.”
As he said this Willa was slowly rising out of the water. She climbed out and the floor around her became stained with blackness. Her eyes still were soulless and she smiled.
“There’s no more hope.” Willa hissed. “This whole city is already lost in darkness.”
“No.” Amana grasped the hilt of Spirit.
“Even if you kill me they’ll still overtake you.”
For the first time in her existence Amana felt fear. It gripped her and she couldn’t move. She was afraid it was going to swallow her up and she’d never feel hopeful ever again. Through the open doorway more dark eyed and pale figures gathered in the room. The only lights were steadily dimming. Eilif also had a sword but he was struggling with the same fear as Amana.
“Willa…” Amana pleaded. “You’re meant for more than this.”
“If I had been like you, yes. Even if I was you though, the darkness is too much fun to resist.” Her barking laugh echoed around the room. “My skills are needed here. I’m important.”
The shadows surrounded her and gathered together to create something altogether different. Willa was suspended in the middle of the darkness like somebody hung from a noose. Eilif and Amana were paralyzed but the man from the front counter was not. The thin, gangly figure glided by the two of them and stood in front of Willa and her shadow army. She smiled wickedly and the whole congregation of shadows dove into him along with Willa.
Amana screamed and lunged forward with her sword but Eilif stopped her. “Amana, look.” Eilif pointed and she could see that all the shadows in the entire room were disappearing and not even affecting the man.
When every shadow was gone the man turned around. His eyes were still very dark and he looked sickly pale but otherwise unaffected. “Come with me. Quickly.” The pair followed him as he exited the pool room and proceeded down the hall to the stairs.
Amana began bombarding him with questions. “Where? Are you okay? What happened to Willa? What is your name?” He stopped short and spun around. “In case of emergencies…of course.”
“I’m Dr. Richard Diamond.”
“You’re…you invented the technology that created us.” Eilif’s eyes widened. “You don’t look nearly as old as I thought you’d be.”
“I stay out of the sun.” The doctor said dryly. He opened the door leading to the basement.
“How did you get rid of the Shadow People?” Amana asked.
“They are attracted to darkness.” Richard said. He was now facing a stainless steel door that was padlocked. Richard reached in his pocket for the key. When it was unlocked it opened up into a tunnel. “I happen to have a lot of darkness.”
“How can we trust you?” Eilif demanded.
“He just saved our lives.” Amana said.
“You trust everybody. What about Willa?”
Amana felt anger rising up in her chest. “I’d rather trust people than have to make my own way alone in this world.”
“I don’t trust anybody.” Eilif grumbled.
“You trust me though.” She insisted.
“We have to go now.” The doctor interjected.
Eilif had no argument against what Amana had said so he resigned himself to the fact that even though his gut was telling him what a bad idea this was, Amana’s faith encouraged him to press on. As they reached the end of the tunnel it became wider and led to a doorway. They opened the door and stepped up into a space that was simply a white sphere. It was like what Amana imagined the inside of a pearl might look like only much bigger.
“Keep the door open.” The doctor commanded.
“What is this place?” Eilif asked.
“A place the shadows can’t exist.” Richard sat Indian style in the middle of the floor and gestured for Amana and Eilif to do the same. They did as they were asked. “People are finding out about my creations.”
“Isn’t that good?” Amana asked.
He shook his head. “It’s having the opposite effect. People are stubborn and refuse to see any different than what they know. I have even found myself losing hope.” He looked directly into Amana’s innocent eyes. “You’re the first I’ve seen that has given me hope for the future. When I first discovered that I could grow beings with the capacity to have faith like a child but the strong spirit of an adult, I imagined somebody like my daughter. You remind me of her.”
“I met your daughter.” Eilif said.
The doctor nodded solemnly. “I thought you were there. You have the same look in your eyes that I see in my own.”
“She was killed?” Amana asked. The doctor nodded and Amana covered her mouth with her hand to conceal a sharp gasp. A single tear rolled down her cheek.
“Don’t mourn what’s already happened. What I need you to do is go to the training place in Chicago and touch base with my associates there.” He handed Eilif a small stack of paper with a business card on top that had an address on it. “As far as I’m concerned you both can bring people out of the darkness.”
“How will they know to trust us?” Eilif asked.
“That card right there. I am the only one with the authority to give them away.” Suddenly he cried out in pain and grasped at his chest. “I can’t hold the shadows back much longer. Seal me inside this room and do as I told you.”
“Will you be okay?” Amana grasped the sides of her creator’s face.
“No.” He said. “They will destroy me from the inside out.”
She cried for the first time since she had been created and a fleeting look of compassion crossed Doctor Diamond’s face. It was quickly taken over by the darkness from the shadows. Eilif grasped her arm and dragged her out the door. He shut it firmly and locked the deadbolt.
They hurried back the way they came. It felt very surreal finding themselves in the hotel once again. It was fully daytime now and a few people milled around the halls as if nothing had happened. At the front counter was a cheery 21 year old girl with a pink bow in her hair. They tried to check out but according to “Casey” —as her nametag read—they hadn’t even checked in yet.
As they walked out into the light of day they felt the burden of responsibility while simultaneously feeling light with a sense of purpose. Eilif looked at the business card in his hand.
“What else did he give you?” Amana asked.
He lifted up the card to reveal two Greyhound bus tickets underneath. He glanced up and on the street corner was a bus stop. Bus #7 trundled up to the curb and opened their doors. Eilif slid his hand into Amana’s and the two boarded the bus to Chicago.