Beth was nervous. Although no one could talk about what they saw in the Prospect Device, there had been a mood shift among all of her peers for the past few years. People used to come out of the board certified room looking happy and enthusiastic about their future. Recently, students came out sobbing, or even worse, with just a blank look on their face. The whole town had been gossiping, trying to figure out what was going on. There was so many theories: that the US had come under dictator rule, that WWIII had occurred, or that the swine flu had evolved faster than scientists could combat it.
Now, with her senior year coming to a close, Beth had to decide if she wanted to view her future. A part of her wanted to remain ignorant, to protect herself from the harm so many were seeing, but another part was full of curiosity. What would she be like in 5, 10, 20 years? Would she marry Jimmy, whom she was currently dating, or find someone else? Would she become the singer she had always dreamed of? It seemed unlikely based on everyone’s reactions to their Prospect Device results, but Beth still held on to that small hope. Beth began drumming her fingers on the table, her stomach twisting and turning.
“Ahem,” said Mrs. Morris, Beth’s English teacher.
The blonde stopped and blushed in embarrassment at being reprimanded. Beth’s fingers quieted, but her mind did not. Would she have kids? Would she still be close to Maggie and Shawn? So many questions ran around in her mind. Beth knew even if she chose to be tested, the glimpse was only 5 minutes long and could focus on any part of her life, many of her questions would likely remain unanswered.
Finally, the bell rang and Beth gathered up her things and headed to the bus stop. It was a long ride, Beth was always last to get off since her home was the furthest from the school, or from town for that matter.
Annette had cooked an extra special dinner to celebrate Beth’s upcoming graduation. After Hershel prayed, the whole family dug into the venison, baked potatoes, green beans, and dinner rolls.
“Well Bethy,” her father asked, “have you made a decision for tomorrow?”
“Um,” mumbled Beth, suddenly not as hungry, “I think I’m going to do it.”
Her family murmured their uncertain praise. No one in the family had ever been tested. When Hershel was in high school, the technology was just coming out. Beth’s mother had been given the option and turned it down. Maggie, while very intelligent, wasn’t a very diligent student, and had ended up three people away from the top 10%. Shawn hadn’t even been close, but that didn’t seem to bother him.
“Just don’t get too caught up in what you see Beth,” Annette warned, brandishing a fork at her youngest “seeing a glimpse of the future can be very disconcerting. There will be things you see that don’t make sense now, there will be things out of context that you can’t understand until you actually have lived it. Seeing the future has caused many more harm than good, especially recently.”
“I think it is cool,” Shawn encouraged, “I hope you see me as the amazing basketball star I am sure to become!”
“Ha,” laughed Maggie, “she is more likely to see you as a farmhand here if she sees you at all.”
“That is enough,” quieted Hershel, “Beth, this is your decision, don’t let anyone influence you. However, if you change your mind before tomorrow, you can always back out.”
“Yes daddy,” Beth replied, “I understand.”
“Good,” her father said with a smile, “now, everyone it is getting dark, help Annette pick up the table.”
All the kids jumped to the task, carrying dirty dishes to the sink, storing leftover food, and loading the dishwasher. Afterwards, Beth took a shower, staying a bit longer than usual. She kept going over and over in her head the pros and cons of glimpsing her future but what it ultimately came down to was that she was desperately curious. She just had to know.
“You have made a decision,” Beth lectured herself, “now quit making yourself crazy thinking about this and go to bed.”
The young woman got out of the shower, dried off, and finished her normal bedtime routine. She crawled in bed and tried to fall asleep, but it didn’t come. Finally, she gave up and pulled out her favorite book, Pride and Prejudice, and reread it until she was tired.
The next morning, Beth awoke with an energy that was disproportionate to the amount of sleep she had gotten. With great care, she brushed her blonde hair and pulled it back in a ponytail, adding a little braid on one side. Then, she dressed in jeans and her yellow polo shirt before running downstairs. The blonde scarfed down breakfast and was out the door. Unfortunately, just because Beth was ready early, didn’t mean the bus was. She stood at the end of her family’s dirt driveway for almost 30 minutes before the huge yellow vehicle came around the bend.
Once at school, Beth went to the register’s office and informed the woman that she would indeed be taking the test. She was handed a slip of paper that read:
Rosen High School Senior
Test Room: 203
Beth wanted to groan, she would have to wait almost all day to take the test! She wanted to get it over with now! There was nothing that could be done about it though, so Beth left the office only to run into her current boyfriend, Jimmy.
“So you are taking the test,” Jimmy exclaimed, looking at the paper in her hand, “I thought you would have told me if you decided to.”
“Well,” Beth said carefully, “I wasn’t really sure I wanted to until this morning.”
“I can go with you, stand outside the door until you are done,” Jimmy offered, “in case, ya know, just a lot of kids have had a hard time with the Prospect Device lately.”
“No, that is okay, but thank you,” Beth declined, feeling like she wanted to be completely alone, even afterwards, since this was such an intimate experience.
The classes passed slowly, so did lunch. Beth couldn’t talk about her upcoming test with anyone else since none of her friends had qualified. They seemed wary to discuss Beth’s future anyway, they didn’t want to know what was making everyone who did view their future depressed or even suicidal.
The hours ticked by until it was 2:50. Beth had showed the slip to her math teacher before class, so she just gathered her things and slipped out the door as the lecture continued. Her heart pounded in her chest as she walked down the empty, silent hallway. Although she was surrounded by rooms of people, for the moment it seemed like everyone else had disappeared. Finally, she reached room 203. Unlike the regular classrooms, this one had a hefty, metal door that could be securely locked when testing was not in place. Beth was wondering if she should knock or wait when a strict-looking woman in a suit opened the door. She had long, straight, black hair that was in a high pony-tail and her make-up made her look very severe.
“Beth Greene,” the woman asked.
“Yes,” the blonde replied.
“Please enter,” the woman directed, holding the door wider.
Beth stepped into a dark room that held a single chair with an attached desk, like many school desks. However, this one had a clear ball on it that was filled with wires and lights. In front of the desk, was a large flat-screen TV that was currently black. Beth felt intimidated and for a moment considered walking back out before deciding that she couldn’t run away. She hadn’t come this far just to give up.
“Please,” the administrator said, “have a seat.”
Beth sat down in the familiar school chair and listened as the woman began talking as she was pushing buttons on the glass globe.
“Be aware that the Prospect Device will only last 5 minutes. You will be left alone to view, I will be waiting outside the door. When you are done, you are to walk out and tell no one about what you have just seen,” the woman instructed, “you will begin by placing both hands on the glass ball. The Prospect Device will scan your fingertips to identify you before beginning to uncover glimpses of your future. If you wish to stop, at any time just remove your hands. Any questions?”
“No,” Beth whispered, getting more nervous.
“Then, you may begin,” the administrator said, as she walked out and closed the door.
The blonde stared down at the mechanical crystal ball in front of her, her nerves tingling. Slowly, she lifted her hands up and placed them on the glass. The glass felt warm to the touch and immediately, a red light shot out, scanning each fingertip. A whirling sound came from within the machine and suddenly, light appeared on the TV.
There was just a flash of Beth and Jimmy sitting on the front porch swing at Beth’s house. It looked like it was evening and the wind tossed his short, brown hair back and forth.
“Things just aren’t the same anymore Beth,” he told her, looking off into the distance, “I don’t think they ever will be again.”
As quickly as his face appeared, it disappeared, only to be replaced by a scene of Beth walking through a forest. She was dirty, covered in what looked like soil, blood, and leaves. Her ribs poked out under her semi-white tank top and her hair was coming loose of her ponytail. In her hand she held a gun and her face was constantly scanning her surroundings as she careful put one foot in front of the other. There was a snap and the future Beth whirled around and raised her gun and pulled the trigger. The screen went blank before Beth could see what future Beth had been shooting at.
Next, was a vision of Beth’s mother, lying in bed, her arm wrapped in bandages. Her mother was fighting to draw every breath, her forehead shining with sweat. Hershel was right by his wife’s side, promising that he was going to find a cure, that everything was going to be alright. Shawn’s voice broke in on the screen, muttering about how nothing would ever be right again.
That faded out to show an aerial view of what looked like sickly people moaning and stumbling all around. Some of them were fatally wounded, it didn’t make any sense how they were still walking. There was a skull on the ground, whose mouth snapped open and closed. Current Beth’s fingers tightened on the ball she was holding, feeling like surely this couldn’t be right. She was standing on the roof of what she though was her house and was sobbing. Gunshots rang out and people began yelling. An RV drove over towards Beth, who jumped on. She glanced back at their house as the RV took off, running over people. Patricia, their neighbor, was running after them, hand in hand with Maggie, until the older woman was grabbed by someone in the crowd. The stranger bit into Patricia’s neck and Beth heard herself screaming.
The next scene was much better. Maggie stood in front of Beth, just as dirty as Beth had appeared before, jumping up and down as they both squealed. A diamond ring was on Maggie’s left ring finger.
“He asked,” exclaimed Maggie, “I wasn’t even expecting it, I mean, that just isn’t what people do anymore, now is it?”
“I’m so happy for you Maggie,” future Beth gushed, “we can’t do a lot, but we are going to have to get the cafeteria to look nice and have some sort of wedding.”
The following scene quieter. There was a baby Beth was cradling in her arms, she cooed at the little girl, who gurgled and tried to grab Beth’s hair. Was that her own baby? Beth’s arms were dirty, her nails broken. The room look dark and uncomfortable, it was full of metal furniture.
“Little ass-kicker right there,” drawled a gravelly voice from someone not on the screen.
“Haha, Daryl,” Beth laughed, “she is only a few months old, she is a long way from kicking anyone’s ass.”
“But she will someday,” replied the man, “anyone that grows up in this world can’t be any less.”
The scene changed again.
Beth was racing through a forest, branches and leaves hitting her in the face. She was following a man in front of her with brown straggly hair and angel leaves on his vest.
“Come on,” he yelled, going faster. It was the same voice as the last scene.
Beth could tell her future self increased the pace, keeping up with the guy in front of her. Finally, the man in front of her collapsed and so did she. Laying in the grass, the man looked over at her, gasping for breath, his striking blue eyes staring at her, his pupils blown wide due to adrenaline. If Beth thought she had looked dirty before, that was nothing compared to this man. He looked like he hadn’t showered in months, but there was something slightly attractive about him, under all the layers of dirt. The way each of his muscles moved like a finely tuned device. The way his eyes could look concerned but sharp at the same time.
Each scene kept moving quickly into the following one. It was the same man again, Daryl, but this time he was looking pissed as hell and it was scary.
“Naw, it’s fun,” he growled at her as he reloaded his crossbow.
“Just stop it,” she exclaimed desperately, “Daryl!”
“Come here,” he slurred, grabbing her by the arm and spinning her around before placing his arm around her neck.
He shot at a human pinned up against a tree, which had a couple more bolts already in it but was still somehow moving and making noise.
“Just kill it,” her future-self cried as she freed herself.
“Come here Greene,” the redneck insisted, undeterred, “let’s pull these out. Can get a little more target practice.”
Before the rough man could reach his victim, Beth ran past him and pulled out an knife. In a swift movement that suggested practice, she stabbed the suffering man in the head.
The next glimpse was much calmer.
Daryl sat next to Beth in a candle-lit kitchen, scraping hogs feet out of a jar while licking his fingers in-between snacks. Coke bottles and peanut butter jars littered the table. The young woman sat writing a letter.
“Maybe you don’t have to leave that,” he said in a much softer voice that was almost unrecognizable from his previous yelling, “maybe we will stick around here a while. When they come back, we just make it work.”
“I mean,” said the archer, suddenly a bit less certain, “it may be nuts, but maybe it will be alright.”
A smile grew on Beth’s face.
“So you do think there are still good people around,” she asked innocently.
The older man shrugged and looked back at his food.
“Well,” the blonde pushed, “what changed your mind?”
The rough man stared at her for a moment, before looking down at his food and shifting uncertainly.
“Ya know,” he answered vaguely.
Apparently her future self had the same tenacity her current self did, because she didn’t let the conversation drop.
“What,” she pressed, grinning a bit.
The older man was obviously having trouble answering. He looked anywhere but at her and finally mumbled something that sounded like I don’t know.
Then, it was gone and another scene began.
“Beth,” cried Maggie, pulling her sister into her arms, “I can’t believe it is really you.”
An older man with short brown hair was there, so was a young boy with a sheriff’s hat and many others that she did not recognize. They all crowded around her, she looked cleaner, but had scars on her face. They were standing outside a hospital, so Beth could only assume they had to take her in to get an injury patched up. After all the reunions, the groups started moving, but Beth fell back to walk with Daryl at the back of the line.
They walked in silence for a while before he finally said anything.
“I missed you,” he growled out, while scanning the trees.
“Ya, I know,” Beth replied, taking his hand in hers.
He looked over with his piercing blue eyes and his hand tightened on hers.
The screen went blank.
Beth sat, trying to process what she had just seen. She had come in here wanting answers and so far she only had more questions. How had she learned to kill people? How did she get those scars? Who was this Daryl, who obviously had feelings for her, which she returned? What happened to Jimmy? Her house? Her family? Why were people walking around so sick and hurt?
None of this made any sense, none of it was even vaguely close to what she had pictured for herself. Beth sat in the chair so long that the crystal sphere, which had turned warm to the touch while operating, cooled down.
Finally, she got up and walked out the door.
“I hope you enjoyed the experience,” said the administrator with a fake smile.
Beth just nodded, not trusting her voice and walked off. School was almost out, but Beth couldn’t wait. She took off towards home, walking rather than taking the bus. It was a long walk, but Beth needed it. Everything kept replaying in her head. If she thought about it hard enough, maybe it would make sense. The fear and desperation in her eyes when she had been in the woods, her mama sick in bed, and the sick people walking all around, it didn’t appear that there was much to look forward to. However, there had been that man. The one with the long shaggy hair and well-muscled arms. He seemed so rough and yet somehow soft at the same time. There was something about him that made Beth almost excited for this horrific future she would be living. There was also something fascinating about her future self, she seemed stronger, more capable than she had ever believed herself to be.
The weeks passed and Beth’s studying dropped way down. The blonde couldn’t focus, not that it really made a difference this close to graduation, she would get her diploma either way. Her mom and dad both tried to understand what was going on, but Beth wasn’t allowed to talk about what she had seen in the Prospect Device, so there was no explaining her change in attitude.
It wasn’t too long after graduation that the news started blowing up. Sick people in one city, then one state, then outbreaks all throughout the US, then nothing because the TV no longer received any channels. Beth was there when her mom passed away, she sat on the porch with Jimmy. She felt so dead inside until the day when a group of strangers came running up toward their house. There was a man Beth recognized from her future with his bleeding son in his arms.
After her daddy fixed him up, he was ready to kick the strangers out. However, Beth cornered her dad and convinced him otherwise. Since there was no point in following the rules anymore, she told her dad that she had seen Rick and his son in her future and that she was sure they were good people. Hershel took this into consideration and told Rick that him and his people could stay on the farm. Soon, all new people were coming in, it was more socialization than Beth had had in weeks. However, not as exciting as when a motorcycle pulled up and a familiar shaggy head appeared. The Prospect Device had failed miserably at capturing what he looked like in real life. In person, he was so much taller, more muscular, and more intimidating than Beth had previously thought him to be. However, she knew her future self wasn’t afraid of him, so she put on her best confident face and smiled at him every time he looked her way. More often than not, he just scowled and turned away.
Beth didn’t know how to approach the man, when there was no way she could explain this connection she had to him. Her uncertainty kept her away until the day he showed up half dead from being impaled on his own bolt and shot by one of the women in his group. The blonde fluttered around the doorway as her father patched the redneck up. She offered to keep an eye on him while her father attended to other business. She was so worried for this man she barely knew.
When Daryl first opened his eyes, Beth almost gasped with how blue they were. She guessed she was staring too long, because his eyes narrowed.
“What you lookin at blondie,” he weakly snarled.
“My name is Beth,” she told him, not allowing herself to be pushed around or intimidated.
“I didn’t ask,” he retorted as he tried to get out of bed and fell back wincing in pain.
The young woman reached over to help him and he roughly shoved her hand away like it was a snake.
“I didn’t ask for no fucking help,” the crass man cussed.
Beth almost got exasperated with him and walked off, but then she remembered watching how kindly and calmly he had talked to her at some point at a kitchen table. The way he had looked at her. The way he had led her when they were running away from something. He might seem like a dirty, rough, mean man now, but she knew there had to be more to him. The blonde remembered how her future self had argued with Daryl, how she didn’t back down even when he was mad and yelling, and used that to summon her courage.
“Well,” she replied, “you had better get used to my help, because we are going to be around each other for a long time.”