I watched my mother suffer, from the gunshots, and finally die. She was Mrs. Samantha Fowler, the woman who suffered at the hands of the rape gangs, the woman who nobody even believed was ever married, and the woman who shielded me from the worst the world had to offer.
Since the war, and the virus, few people remained to form any type of government. Thus, chaos ruled. The law became a form of street justice enforced at the barrel of a shotgun. Children, such as I, never attended school and everyday became a fight for survival. My world was a series of Us vs Thems each attempting to see another sunrise. My world was a dying world. And yet, it didn't have to be my world.
My mother told stories about her world and her husband, Stephen. She said her world looked exactly like mine absent of the wars, famines, and plagues. She told me of how she entered my world (at the time, I did not believe a single word she spoke) from the Carlton Theater, via the projectionist's room. On the anniversary of her arrival, my mother trek through a maze of increasing dangers to arrive at that very theater and attempt to recreate the transfer across worlds.
Like most things I have seen in my life, people speak of great epic stories and struggles, but never provide a shred of evidence to prove such claims. Today, witnessing my mother's final act of kindness, I now know differently. Mrs. Samantha Fowler, age 37, brown hair, green eyes, pining for a man she would never see again, gave me proof.
In her hand was a scrap of paper, more of a map, detailing the her belongings from "over there" and the plan to use them to return. Since she could not make another attempt, I was to do so. My mother always gave me the wherewithal to survive every crisis. She told me of her childhood inoculations that protected both her an me from the disfiguring phage of two years ago. She showed me how to reload and shoot a rifle. Even gardening techniques she displayed I remembered during the lean years. Samantha never wavered in her determination to safeguard me from the horrors of today. With this map, I had my one chance to escape.
I had nothing left to lose.
That is, if I could make it to the Carlton Theater, if the theater still stood, and if (big if) her stash of supplies still remained intact. My odds approached zero, not zero, but close to zero. I took those odds.
First things first, since I look identical to my mother, I took her ID card to help pass through friendly controlled areas near the theater. I also grabbed her gun, ammo belt, and boots. I had my own so I could trade hers for safe passage. Finally, I dragged my mother's body to a makeshift grave in the basement of the warehouse I would never again call "home". She deserved a proper burial, but I had to move. I left a grenade without the pin underneath her just in case the mouthers "street roaming cannibals" find her before the bugs and rats do. It was the most fitting tribute I could offer to the woman who gave everything to me.
Wiping away the tears, I moved.
In three hours, I made it to the Carlton Theater before dark. You do not want to know what happens after dark. I hunkered down, took a drink from my canteen, and began to look around. To remain silent, I used two Bowie knives (still do not know why my mother called them Bowie knives) and holstered the firearms. If I find a mouther, he finds a quick death. If he finds me first, he will not take me alive.
Another two hours to find the projectionist's room in this dump. I tap the walls and do find a movable panel. Instead of pulling objects out, I crawl in. Samantha must have expected this move. She pre-planned for every contingency thus far.
I took out a small light and scanned the room for unfriendlies. None. I sealed the panel and began a more than cursory examination. What I found was beyond imagination. In here was old army MREs, medicine, water, ammo, a nice semiautomatic rifle labelled "for the impending Zombie apocalypse - what an inconvenience", and a blue box. I open the box to find a letter, written by my mother, and a blue dress, blue lingerie, heels, makeup, and an overcoat. The letter describes the day she entered the portal and what she wore. It also details every bit of knowledge about her life on the "other side". Should I find the passage back, that she never did, I had to find Stephen and explain everything to him. The letter also stated that an exact copy of my mother made it through from my side to her side when mom came from her side to my side.
I needed more than minute to understand what this confusing letter entailed.
If I was to understand my mother correctly, I may find her husband and the woman who took her place. Now, while my mother did not explicitly state so, I do believe the amount of firepower had only one purpose; to kill that doppelganger.
I had killed before, mouthers and rapists, but never an innocent. How could my mother wish this on another?
I found another letter in the bottom of the box explaining the encounter of my mother and her twin. She details (hopefully for my eyes only) the sexual liaison of the two identicals prior to passing through the portal. The letter states I should wear her clothing, pass through (even if it means doing what she did), and leave my world forever. If successful, I should have the Carlton Theater torn down ASAP before another could mimic my success. Finding Stephen was a primary goal in her life. Finding Stephen would prove helpful, but not essential in mine. Her entire theory was predicated on my passage through the portal would coincide with her double's.
Thus, time was never a factor, in terms of portal passage, only access.
I wanted to think about this forever, but darkness meant mouthers and they can smell fresh meat a mile away.
Quickly, I stripped, washed, perfumed with something pleasant called, "vanilla", dressed in clothing to unusual for description, took a deep breath, and walked out of the projectionist's room in a small daze that soon passes.
When I recover, the Carlton Theater is perfect. I have never experienced such luxury. It is clean and well lit. I see myself in the mirrors and am amazed. I spill on my heels over the red velvet, deep pile carpet throughout. I would have remained in a perpetual haze if not for her.
She looks like me and is a bewildered as I. I remember the letter and take the lead in explaining, to her, as if I already understood the events as they unfolded. I acted well enough to convince her of my story.
Unfortunately, I had a flaw from the start. She, my twin, had her wedding band on. I did not. In a mere second, while maintaining the world's best poker face, I learned the most important thing in my life.
I was standing in front of my mother. She was Mrs. Samantha Fowler. The real Mrs. Samantha Fowler. Thus, I was the daughter of my twin, playing the role of the unmarried Miss Samantha Lombard. I had no choice but to inform this 18 year old most of what I knew.
In doing so, my mother's letter detailed two important facts that would occur. First, Mrs. Fowler would listen to everything Miss Lombard told her.
Second, Mrs. Fowler was far more curious about sex than my mother ever let on in her letter. Mrs. Fowler had those eyes of passion for who she believed to be herself, Miss Lombard, but instead was her daughter, yet to be born, on a parallel world 18 or 19 years hence.
I had a choice to make, but either choice meant someone dies.
If I make love to my younger mother, I can cross over and find her Stephen and live happily-ever-after. But, my mother becomes condemned to my world and I may cycle through this day forever.
If I do not have sex with Mrs. Fowler, then each of us goes back to our respected worlds and I most likely die from the associated horrors of today and those yet to come.
I have the choice.
Mrs. Fowler is leaning in to kiss me.
Part of me cannot fathom the guilt of the first choice.
Part of me doesn't care.
In the end, I am the daughter of Samantha, the only person who ever cared for me.
I make my choice.
Later in the day, Mrs. Oliver asks Samantha her recommendation concerning the destruction or renovation of the Carlton Theater. Mrs. Samantha Fowler insists that it is beyond repair and must be torn down.
Later in the night, I hold on for as long as I can with my ammo and last grenade. If those mouthers want a bite, they are going to have to do it without teeth, or a jaw, or a head, or a body.
Either way, in the ensuing explosion, the Carlton Theater comes down with its last thunderous clap.