Fungal Halo

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Woman of Mournful Duty

You start dating a lovely girl who warns you that her job has her on-call 24/7/365 but assures you that they so rarely ever call her in.

It turns out to be true. You’re together for years, and you’ve never seen her go in to work at all. It’s odd how she dodges the question of what she does. The pay is great, though. Enough to support you both comfortably, even if she never seems to do anything.

Some nights you catch her crying in bed, unable to sleep. She confides in you how desperately she wishes she could quit her job. You do your best to comfort her, though even after all your time together, she still can’t say what her job is.

Your girlfriend hates to watch the news. You think it’s important to keep up with current events, especially with tensions rising with the neighboring nation as they have. She’s such a gentle soul, however, and any talk of war on the TV makes her fret terribly and pace the room.

When war is eventually declared, you hold your girlfriend while she screams and cries. You try to reassure her that this city, far from the border, is unlikely to be in danger.

It isn’t your lives she’s worried about, she says. You don’t know how to comfort her. Hopefully it ends soon.

As time goes on, the war does not end soon. It escalates. You watch the news reports alone, now.

Government officials start threatening to deploy The Big Weapon. So much loss of life, wiping whole cities off the map like that. You hope it doesn’t come to that. You don’t tell your girlfriend.

You wake up one night to the sound of a helicopter touching down in front of your home. Your girlfriend is not in bed. You race outside just in time to notice her inside the helicopter as it takes off again. You watch her recede, looking at you with eyes filled with mourning.

A military job would explain why your girlfriend was never able to talk about her work. The sudden departure by helicopter all but confirms that idea. You hope she remains safe, whatever her role might be.

The next day, the news report declares that the military has dropped The Big One on the enemy. Too many military targets to hit one by one, they say. It would have taken too long to slow them down, so they decided to unleash it on the most populous enemy city. A civilian target.

The following day, after reports come that a second such city was obliterated, military officials on the news triumphantly declare that the enemy had surrendered. Later, they drop the Weapon on a third, and the surrender becomes unconditional.

With the end of the war, you hope your girlfriend returns home soon.

When she does, it is not in the way you expect. An unmarked van pulls up to your home. Men in suits proceed to open the back and wheel out a long black box the size of a coffin. Your heart skips a beat. You rush out the door. No, it can’t be…

It is not a coffin. A coffin would not be so obviously armored. Nor would it require two men entering codes to unseal it. When they do, unlatching the mechanism and opening the box, you see your girlfriend lying inside, eyes closed.

“She needed some special medical care,” a man explains to you without really explaining anything.

They lift her limp body and have you escort them to your room.

“Her medicine might leave her a little confused for a bit. Don’t you worry, she’ll be right as rain soon enough.”

They leave. You hold her hand while she rests the remainder of the day. Her sleep is restless, full of kicking and moans. What did she see to give her such nightmares?

What did she have to do?

“Run, run…” she mumbles in her sleep. “Please…” She sounds desperate.

When she eventually awakens, her face is slick with tears. You hold her while she cries, clutching you tightly. Confused, she asks how you got “all the way out here.” You have to explain repeatedly where you are. She doesn’t seem at all aware of how she got back home.

Your girlfriend seems to think she was just in…a city she absolutely could not have been anywhere near.

After all, if she were there then she would have been wiped out with the rest of the populace. There were no survivors. Right?

She cries for a very long time.