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Tom led them to a road near an abandoned building. They walked closer to the building, and there they saw it. There was a big crack on the left side of the building. The inner side of the crack was weirdly black. Like it was moist or sparkly. The closer they got to the crack, the more they felt like something very wrong was happening.
“It’s worse than I had expected,” Alma said worriedly.
“We need to report that we found it. I don’t care that they said no contact.” Jason was becoming restless. As if the darkness made him feel like he was in a bubble without oxygen.
“We can’t do that. They told us to figure it out and deal with it on our own.” Alma reminded him. “Now let’s check the surroundings and see if we can find something that could help us.”
“Let’s get some of this material and see what it is.” Tom suggested.
Jason went around the empty place. He came back with a log and handed it to Tom. Before Tom could take it from him, Alma’s voice came from behind them, “Do I have to do everything myself, boys?” She approached them and sarcastically rolled her eyes.
Tom pointed to Alma’s hand and asked, “Where you got those?”
“While your smart butts were looking out here, I went into the building and found this bucket and this rope.” She carried them for the boys to see better.
Alma put the bucket on the ground and sat on the sidewalk beside it. She brought the rope and tied it around its handle. Neither Jason, nor Tom made any move. They both seemed frozen and just stood there waiting for her to finish. She pulled the rope on the handle part to make sure that it was tight. Alma looked at them and started explaining her plan, “So one of us will throw the bucket in the crack, and the other will control it making sure we don’t accidentally drop it or something.” Tom grabbed the bucket, “I’ll throw it.”
Alma said, “And I’ll carry the rope and once we get some of this dark thing, tell me to pull it.”
She wanted to give a pep talk before they started their mission and said, “We gotta be careful. We can’t risk falling in there. If this thing can destroy worlds, I can’t imagine what it can do to humans.”
Jason and Tom exchanged worrying looks. She knew that her words weren’t encouraging, so she tried to lift their spirits, “Hey, it’s gonna be okay. Don’t worry.” She looked at them both and gave a weak smile.
Tom dropped the bucket in and told Alma to loosen her grip. She did until he held his hand, “Stop right there.” Alma did as was told. Because they didn’t know anything about the dark material, they were worried about it having some gravitational force.
On Tom’s cue, Alma slowly pulled the bucket. Making sure that she didn’t spill it. When the bucket started appearing, Jason approached and helped Alma.
Five minutes later, they were sitting on the side of the road. The bucket was a little bit far from them because whatever that material was, it was disgusting. It smelled like rotten eggs to the point that they couldn’t bear it.
“What do you think we should do now?” Alma asked the two teenage boys.
“I have no idea.” came from Jason. Tom looked at the bucket and agreed with Tom.
They couldn’t figure out what that gooey dark material was. Alma didn’t think it was wise to leave the bucket on the side of the road. Hence, she took a deep breath then carried the bucket to the side of the building. She left it in a corner and hoped no one could find it.
* * *
Before sunset, they went back to Jason’s place. They sat on the front porch to discuss their options.
“So any ideas how far it’s gone?” Alma asked.
Tom was Googling something and said, “You’re not gonna like it.”
This statement got his companions’ attention very quickly. “How bad?” Alma asked again.
Tom turned his laptop to them and explained the picture that was on the screen. Some sort of a map. “This is the building we went to earlier,” he pointed to the right upper corner of the screen, “it’s near the water pipes. And that black shiny moist thingy we saw is right on the pipes. The good news is that it is not in the water system, but the bad news is that it has traveled on it.”
“Traveled where? And how far?” Alma fired him with questions.
“I’m afraid it’s traveled to the whole place. And it’s gone really far.”
Jason finally broke his silence, “So what can we do?”
“Not much. It’s unfixable. Within days, it can destroy the pipes.”
Alma started, “It can’t be. There has to be something we can do.”
And that’s when Tom said something he hadn’t dared to think of, “We can’t save us. But we can save them.”
“What do you mean?” Jason was curious.
Tom was quiet for some time, he couldn’t bring himself to say the upcoming words. Alma and Jason were looking at him with so much worry on their faces. He finally said, “We, Alma, can destroy, I mean delete this story and end everything.”
“No!” Alma and Jason somehow shouted.
“Let me finish please.” Tom waited for a moment before he started talking. Making sure that they were listening. “Look, we’re just characters from stories.”
Alma wanted to protest, to tell him that they were more than that. They were parts of her thoughts and imagination, parts of herself. But she remained silent despite what she was feeling inside.
Tom went on, “If we let this dark force spread, we, our world, will be destroyed alongside every other world out there. But if we stop it and sacrifice ourselves, we’ll give them a chance to survive. Not to mention we’re basically already doomed.”
Alma couldn’t believe what she was hearing. She wondered how Tom could speak so calmly while his world was in such grave danger.
Tom didn’t wait for them to say anything. He looked at her in the eyes and said, “Alma, you are the only one who can do that.”
“What? Why me?”
“You are the creator. If you don’t do it, no one else can.”
“No! You can’t ask me to destroy all this.” Her eyes were filled with tears.
“We’re already doomed,” Jason reminded her. “You won’t do something that isn’t already happening. You’ll just make it quicker and safer.”
Alma’s cheeks started to glisten with her tears, and said, “But you can’t ask me to do that. You are like my own kids. You and this world that I built. I love it and I love all my characters.”
“We love you too, Alma. But we need you to do that.” Jason held her hand while he went on, “We’ll be with you all the way.”
“You too, Jason?” She felt betrayed.
“We can’t deny that it’s for the best,” he calmly said.
The sun was setting and the different and beautiful colors the sky had didn’t make Alma feel any better. But she knew that she had to do that. She knew that they were right. But then asked, “How do we know it worked?”
Tom jokingly said, “The fancy management people will tell you.”
* * *
Jason and Tom walked Alma to the roads that led to the door. They hugged her and Jason said, “We can’t come any more.”
Tom told her, “You know what to do. Behind this door, delete the story word by word.”
Alma nodded and told them, “This is not the end, nor is it goodbye. I can always recreate you.” She winked at them and walked out of the door.
On the opposite side of the door, Alma stood with her laptop. She deleted every word with teary eyes and once she deleted everything, the door disappeared. Alma cried even more. She sat on the floor. Her heart ached and her breathing escalated. Once she was calmer, she wiped her tears with her sleeves and then she looked around the corridor, she saw her other stories, those that she saved. For that, there was a faint smile on her face.
She left the house with teary eyes, but not as sad as she’d been half an hour ago. Mia was waiting for her outside. When Alma got closer to the walkway, Mia approached her and in a dry emotionless tone said, “It worked. Thank you for your sacrifice.” Then she left Alma to walk out herself through the gate she’d walked through with Jason a few hours ago.
I used one of my previous stories, Trapped, in “Alma’s Worlds”. You can check it out with this link.