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Hearts and Riddles

The Journey

By Corrine HathawayPublished 3 years ago 8 min read

It changed the way your heart beat. Alex’s dad Harvey gave them this ugly necklace right before he died. His heart exploded. Well it didn’t exactly explode. It started beating really fast and just sort of popped. They were with him when he died. Some hearts beat too fast and just exploded like Alex’s dad’s. Others slowed to the point of stopping. They were calling it the Arrhythmia Virus or AV for short.

Harvey was in the attic of the house he shared with his kid, Alex. Alex was non-binary and uses the pronouns they or them. Harvey never cared what Alex wanted to be called. They were his only family, his only connection to this fast changing world. And because of this, Harvey needed to find that old necklace that had once belonged to his wife, Alex’s mother Kristen. Harvey and Kristen loved nothing more than packing up their converted Astro van and driving for days or sometimes weeks. Before they were married, and before they had Alex, they were on an adventure driving across the deserts of Arizona and New Mexico. They stopped at a roadside sign that advertised Navajo crafts and jewelry.

“Isn’t this so ugly it’s beautiful?” Kristen asked holding up what he assumed was meant to be a heart shaped pendant. It appeared the silver had cooled too quickly while it was being shaped and hammered that it was more lopsided and lumpy, faintly resembling a heart. “I love it! It’s abstract and not perfect just like us,” Kristen exclaimed. Harvey never could resist anything that made her smile. Alex had her smile.

“It’s yours,” he said, paying the old woman behind the table.

“My great grandfather made this,” the woman began, “Change is coming and this will help you to see.” Harvey and Kristen just smiled at the woman, thanking her as they turned to leave. “Thump thump thump thump thump thump,” the woman started chanting as they walked away.

“That was weird,” Harvey said.

“I will love it forever and wear it always,” she exclaimed. Harvey wrapped his arms around her and kissed his future wife.

There it was, in a shoebox with Harvey’s journal he kept right before Kristen died.

“This was your mother’s. She would want you to have it. Promise me you will never take it off,” Harvey said when he gave the heart shaped necklace to Alex.

“Dad, I love you and I loved mom and I miss her just as much as you do, but this necklace is horrible.” Alex looked at the bent and misshapen heart. It was most definitely not their style.

Alex’s mom had died three years prior of a brain tumor, or at least that was what the doctors said. She started having these visions and speaking in riddles. They thought it was dementia or early onset Alzheimer’s, but the neurologist found a small, inoperable tumor on her pineal gland. One afternoon she lay down for a nap and never woke up. Her hand was wrapped around her necklace when Harvey found her.

“Ok dad, I promise.”

It wasn’t like those apocalypse movies. There weren’t people running scared. There weren’t planes and guns and smoke. The real apocalypse that Alex was living in was quiet. Peaceful really.

Alex was at the grocery store looking through the canned food when they heard, “Hey Alexis.”

Chloe Robertson was standing at the corner of the aisle. Chloe and Alex were friends when they were younger, before Alex came out as non-binary. Chloe couldn’t be bothered to learn Alex’s new pronouns, and they drifted apart. Yet here she was. Even weirder than running into their old best friend? Alex could hear Chloe’s heartbeat. Thump-thump thump-thump. Normal.

“Hey Chloe. It’s Alex actually. You’re not dead.” Smooth.

“No, not dead. You either.” Chloe laughed. “There’s a small group of us living in the high school. I’m out on a food mission with Isaac Hanson. You remember him, right? Anyway, are you on your own? Where are your parents?” Chloe spewed a string of questions at Alex.

“Uh, my parents are dead,” Alex started.

“AV?” Chloe interjected.

“Dad from AV, mom from a brain tumor.” Show no emotion.

“Oh dang. I’m sorry girl. My moms both died of AV,” Chloe still couldn’t figure out Alex’s non-binary identity.

“I’m sorry about your moms. Please don’t call me girl, Chloe.” It was getting so annoying having to explain them self all the time.

“I’m sorry Alex. I’ll try. I just remember you as my friend Alexis from when we were younger.” Chloe didn’t remember Alex being so muscly before. “Do you want to come check out the high school? It’s better than being all alone. We have a small garden at the school. Did you know there was a horticulture class? Apparently last year they raised money and built a greenhouse to start supplying the cafeteria with fresh produce. We have a few green thumbs in the group that are keeping it going.” Chloe was excited to have another friend around. AV made for some really lonely days not to mention nights.

“Hey Isaac! You remember Alex from school?” Chloe shouted through the store.

“Hey Alex! Are you coming back with us?” Isaac was one of those charismatic, boisterous guys who seemed to naturally possess the gift of making you feel welcome and comfortable. He was also six feet tall with blond surfer hair and tan skin which didn’t hurt. Alex realized they could hear his heartbeat too. Thump-thump-thump, thump-thump-thump. Uh-oh.

“Uh Chloe,” Alex whispered, “Isaac’s heart is beating too fast. You know like the others.”

“What? No, he’s fine. Also how do you know?” Chloe seemed confused.

“I don’t know how, but I can hear his heart. I can hear yours too. Your heartbeat is totally normal, but Isaac’s has an extra beat where there shouldn’t be one.” Alex tried to explain what he was hearing.

“Don’t say anything. I’m sure he’s fine. You probably just heard something else.” Chloe brushed Alex off.

“Uh, Chloe?” Isaac called out for Chloe from an aisle away. “Can you come here?”

Chloe and Alex came around the corner. Isaac was standing there holding a bag of flour. He was covered in sweat.

“Isaac!” Chloe ran over to him just as he fell. Isaac was dead. Chloe looked at Alex. “How did you do that? How did you hear his heartbeat? How did you know he had AV?” She was crying.

“I’m sorry Chloe. I don’t know why I can hear your heartbeat, but I can.” Alex was genuinely as confused as she was.

“Well, help me carry his body back to the high school. The others will want to say goodbye.” She tucked her arms under Isaac’s armpits while Alex grabbed the body at the heels.

The gymnasium was filled with lawn furniture. The classrooms had been turned into single or family residences. Alex saw some familiar faces. It was deafening to hear so many heartbeats at once. Alex turned around and ran back outside.

“What’s wrong?” Chloe asked cautiously.

“I can hear everyone’s heart beating at the same time. It’s so loud.” At that moment Alex remembered one of the riddles their mom had spoken.

Noise so loud. Chest so proud. Once it is heard, how do you live little bird

Hearing everyone’s heartbeat at once. The proud sound of a heart beating in a chest. Birds have fast heartbeats. Humans can’t live with the heart rate of a bird. Alex’s mom could hear peoples’ heartbeats too. This must be genetic.

Alex was sitting outside in the quiet when Chloe walked out with an older, Native American woman covered in silver jewelry much like the silver heart Alex now wore. “Alex? This is my aunt Simi. She wants to speak with you.”

“Hello, Alex. In my tribe we honor those we call two spirits, like you they are neither man nor woman and both man and woman. It is my honor to make your acquaintance. Chloe tells me you have the gift of hearing. May I take a closer look at that necklace you’re wearing?” She reached out towards Alex’s heart necklace, and Alex moved to remove it. “No, no do not take it off. I will look at it right here. This is Navajo silver like I am wearing. Do you know how special this necklace is that you wear?”

“It was my mother’s.” Alex looked at the deformed heart in the old woman’s hand.

“Let’s see,” she started examining the necklace more closely. “Ah here it is just as I thought.” She slid her fingernail along the outside of the heart and it popped open. It wasn’t just a heart pendant, it was a locket. Inside the locket was a small key.

Sing the song to right the wrong unlock the box and plant the phlox

Those riddles Kristen spoke during her last days weren’t riddles at all. They were directions.

“Do you know what to do with this Alex?” Aunt Simi asked.

“I think I do. My dad kept a journal with everything my mom said when she stopped making sense. I need to go back to my house and find it. This has something to do with AV, I just know it. Why else would my dad have known to give me this necklace right before his heart gave out.” Alex felt excited.

“Take Chloe with you my dear.” Aunt Simi hugged Chloe tightly knowing that she may not see her again.

At Alex’s house, they found the box in the attic. There was Harvey’s journal full of Kristen’s last words.

Where the box is found is deep underground. Follow 2 after 4 when you walk out the door and 10 less 2 to 9 in the north. Where green meets brown and sky falls down.

“What does that even mean?” Chloe wasn’t sure about this at all.

“Of course!” Alex knew. “2 after 4 is 2 plus 4. 6. 10 less 2 is 10 subtract 2. 8. Highway 68! We have to take Highway 68 to find where the box is buried.”

“But which way?” Chloe still didn’t seem into it.

“North! to 9 in the North. We’re going to the Taos ski valley. My parents used to take me up there when I was little all the time. I don’t know what the last part means, but I’m sure I will once we’re there! Chloe this is it. My mom knew something about this virus. We have to follow her leads.” Alex was convinced and was going with or without Chloe.

“Leads? More like games. I don’t know Alex.” Chloe trailed off thinking about her Aunt Simi’s guidance. “If Aunt Simi thinks this is the way, then I guess I do too. Let’s gather some supplies from the school before we go. I want to say goodbye to everyone. We can leave first thing in the morning.”

“I can’t go back there, Chloe, the noise, it was too much.” Alex knew what they had to do and was ready to start immediately. “I’ll stay here and see if my parents gathered any other information. You gather some basics, and I’ll meet you outside the school in the morning at first light.”Alex packed their backpack with a sleeping bag, a couple of flares, the few nasty dehydrated meals they found in their parents’ camping gear, and a portable water filter. “Thank you mom and dad for your love of the outdoors.”

Alex didn’t sleep that night, and at first light they were waiting at the entrance to the high school. Chloe sauntered out with a backpack of her own and a small bag of food for Alex to carry.

“This will last us for a couple of days,” she said, “but we’ll have to scavenge on the way.”

As the sun glided over the mountains, the two former best friends, and now potential saviors of the human race, began their journey together.

Young Adult

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    CHWritten by Corrine Hathaway

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