Gertrude and Hope gathered firewood as the sky turned a darker shade of blue, signaling sunset in the coming minutes. As Hope cradled the family of sticks in the basket of her extended forearms, Gertrude questioned why she was not shaken from the sight of her husband’s soon to be rotting skeleton.
“Well, for one, I don’t believe you. Second, I don’t believe it is Matthew, that’s not possible, and thirdly you’re not going to scare me into replacing you in this hell hole that you call home, Gertie.”
Gertrude looked on in disbelief after referring to her as ‘Gertie.’ She dropped the wood and allowed them to roll beyond her bare feet. Stepping over the scattered lumber, she stared at her youthful face.
“Why would you call me that? What do you know?”
“Excuse me?” she asked. “I didn’t mean anything by it, it was just a nickname.”
Gertrude turned her back to her and began gathering the wood once again.
“Do not call me that again. I’m not joking.”
Hope rolled her eyes at her snide comment and waited impatiently for her to finish her task. Once the wood was in her hands again, she led the way back to the cave. The visibility of their shadows decreased along with the sunlight, and by the time they arrived it was pitch black. Gertrude told her to sit tight as she grabbed a lantern from the side of the opening.
Matthew’s struggle was still ongoing, as Hope could hear her husband growing more and more frustrated with being left alone for over an hour. His grunts could clearly be heard to Hope, but it was unclear whether Gertrude was simply ignoring them or her hearing was deteriorating from old age.
With the branches still in hand, she walked over to the elderly woman and asked her where to leave them.
“Inside, place them in the fire pit.”
Hope did as she was told and dropped them within the circle of rocks that held the ash from a previous fire. She then walked over to her husband and sat to the left of his face with her legs folded.
“She will remove the spell if you cooperate. She didn’t hurt me. Her name is Gertrude and she seems like a sweet lady, she’s just tired of living this way. I think we should help her.”
“Help her? She’s a fucking psycho,” he shot back at her, “she dragged me and you both to this place without regard for our lives and now you want to help her?”
“She didn’t hurt either of us, we’re still alive. Why don’t you ever believe in me? I trust her and I think you should too.”
“Oh, so you go for a nature walk and suddenly you have matching best friend forever rings?”
“That’s not what I said, you fucker,” sending a slap to the top of his head, “listen to me. Even if you don’t trust her, you have to trust me. Do you want to sit here paralyzed for the rest of your life? You need to trust her and not fake it. She’ll know.”
Gertrude stepped through the entrance and wasn’t the least bit shocked to see them talking. She placed a small velvet bag next to the wood that she dumped on the dirt ground beneath her. Rubbing two sticks together like a boy scout in training until a spark arose and flames burst throughout the cavity, she clutched the bag in her hand and slithered her way over to Hope and Matthew.
“I’m gonna tell you the same thing I told her,” with her raspy voice cracking mid-sentence, “if you try to turn on me, you’ll be right back in the predicament you’re in now. If cooperating is a problem then you can lay there and rot.”
Matthew reluctantly agreed, which resulted in a variation of the same chant she performed on Hope just an hour ago. As he sat up, he realized that he was doing so too quickly and was told to take it easy by his wife. He laid back down on his back and sat up with ease, taking a deep breath before scooting closer to the fire for warmth.
“You’re getting it,” Gertrude spoke, “stay there.” She gestured to Hope to do the same. “I am going to show you something that you need to see.”
She reached into the bag and pinched a bit of blue dust between her fingers and sprinkled it atop the dancing flames. Standing aside it, she stuck her arms out and possessed the fire. Visions of a young Gertrude and a clean shaven older man with white hair and an old tuxedo sitting in a room were seen within the flare.
The room had a dozen clocks on the wall, all different designs, and the monotonous tick-tocking was heard across the bowels of the cave.
“Gertrude, you were born to do this. You know how to survive off of the land, you excel at hunting. That’s what the training was about. You were the star student since day one, and now I present you with the opportunity to save the world. You will be given the gift of eternal life for as long as you need it. Until you find a replacement or you just want to stop, but please note that if you choose to give up your position, the rest of us go along with you.”
“This is a big responsibility, do you understand?”
“Come with me, I have to show you what you must do.”
He took her to a back room and flipped the switch on the wall before they both walked in.
“Sit down and lift up the sleeve of your shirt.”
The older gentleman reached into a desk drawer and pulled out a small black box. Clicking the latches open, he pulled out a needle and kneeled down beside her.
“You’re going to feel a tingling sensation once I inject you. It’s nothing to worry about, but you will have to do continuous doses throughout your stay. We’ll fill you in on that once you get there.”
He injected her and her face tensed up at the tingling he told her she would feel.
“There’s something else you should know. Any time you feel a semblance of the ground move, there are visitors. You can either leave them be or convince them to replace you. It is of utmost importance that you choose wisely, just as we have with you.”
“Where will I be staying?”
“Jared will fill you in with the rest. It’s time for you to begin your new life. I wish you the best of luck, Gertrude. Thank you for your upcoming sacrifices. I will ensure that your name live on forever in the name of humanity.”
Gertrude fell backwards and landed on her back, unconscious. The act of showing them this vision had obviously taken a lot out of her.
The ground began to tremble, causing Matthew and Hope to look at each other, questioning what to do next.
“You heard the man, “Matthew said, “let’s see who came to visit us.”