Engulfed in black. Everything. Light bulbs still intact but the power has run out. Only five months ago the city was raging. Stars hide under charcoal blankets and refuse to cast light. The moon sits alone. Not guiding paths. Rain falls from nowhere. If clouds inhabited the sky, you wouldn’t now. Crisp breezes scurry down the street. It’s the end of the summer. Maybe. You wouldn’t know for sure. Seasons have become nothing. Time has stopped. Maybe not. Who knows?
A ball of light bounces off the tire of a motorized scooter abandoned in the scatter. The lucky ones have flashlights. Cylinder saviors. The smell alone isn’t enough. Two balls. Very lucky. Voices. One is worried and the other is skeptical.
“We won’t make it,” a shrill voice. Female.
“Shut up!” A tight warning. Almost a whisper. Male.
The water gathering in the street puddles around their footsteps, washing away only seconds after they mark their spots. Tattered and torn clothing hang from their bodies. Wasting away. Food is difficult to locate. Well, for some. Scavenging from turned over trash bins had become a Sunday ritual. Was it Sunday?
Days passed without notice. The sun would visit and the moon would take her place. Day in and day out. Wandering. Wondering. Hiding. Running.
Knees hit pavement. The middle of a street. Slender legs curling up and arms grasping to clutch together to form a barrier to hold her all of her limbs together. The girl sat still. She’d die there if she had a choice. She’d die eventually. No one lasted long.
“Get up,” the man spat. Brisk and rough. “We don’t have time to cry in the rain.”
“Time is an illusion.” Her voice a bit shaky but otherwise controlled. Much more than it was when they walked into the street only three minutes prior.
What had she fallen on? Was there anything in the road? Maybe her body craved the ground. She needed the rest. She needed a lot of things. The world was gone. Still present. But gone.
A sigh escaped the man’s lips. They weren’t related. He’d found her. The position she sat in now was the position she took on every time she wanted to give up. They had her. He had been certain. Dangling lobes that had held glistening studs once upon a time and jaws that hung loose as if every muscle had dissolved. Dissolved. The bodies. Dissolving. Not possible but it was happening.
Craving. Eating. Lurking in the shadows and in the daylight. The night was dangerous. Batteries were scarce. They’d lose their light source in less than a day’s time. Imagine it. Energy was depleting. A terrifying thought.
“Hope isn’t lost just yet,” he let the words slip softly from his mouth as he extended his hand. His hands. Calloused and bruised. They had pushed through so much. The ground they’d already covered was remarkable. How had they survived so long? The real question is why have they survived so long?
She reached for his hand, pulling her weight from the ground, picking pieces of gravel from her palms once she had regained her composure. To lose control is to lose your life. Any amount of miscalculation could result in tragedy.
“I want to stop running.” Only five months of this and she’d decided to give up. “My body can’t handle this. I don’t know you. I don’t know myself. This world. This world is dead. Have we met anyone real? No. No. The world isn’t alive anymore.”
Tears had been given up long ago. About two weeks in. It only attracted attention.
“We’re in the dark right at this moment. We have dying flashlights. It could get you from behind and I’d never know until your screams were the only things I could hear. Then there’d be mine. Mixed together in an accident no one is here to report.”
Her cherry dyed hair clinging to her chin. It didn’t fall quite to her shoulders. An act she had chosen to define her unique style amongst her newly obtained college pals. What a mistake. Education wasted. Money wasted. Free was the norm these days. Stolen goods filled the bags they had managed to find.
There was no beginning. A spontaneous downhill spiral. A delivery to Hell in a hand-basket. Hell on Earth. Call it what you will. Warning signs weren’t given. There is no alarm system for an apocalyptic outbreak of extraordinary proportions. Ridiculous. Hadn’t Science gotten that far yet?
Tension evaporated from the man’s honey filled eyes. He was a few years older than the girl. She had to be 18. They’d never discussed it. She was right. They knew nothing about each other. Five months and he’d never even thought to ask what her favorite color was. He’d guess purple. She looked like that type of girl. Letting her abandon the mission of survival wouldn’t be on his agenda for the day. Bringing her along meant making sure she remained intact and not in several places at one time.
He knew where he was going. She didn’t. Surprisingly, she followed without question. Is this how trust worked? You let someone lead you no matter the destination? Well. When it’s between that and becoming the main course of someone else’s dinner party, skipping down the yellow brick road with a stranger seemed harmless.
“I promise.” Soft words. Spoken only from a man who let his heart do the talking. Hey. They’d been inseparable for five months. They weren’t related. But he’d claim her if anyone asked. He didn’t have to explain his extent of the promise. She knew.
“I certainly wish it were that easy.” Disbelief.
“Nothing is easy.” Defending.
“Nothing has worked before.”
“It’s different this time.” He had a lead.
“You didn’t really hear that.”
“I did and it’s close.” A portable radio claimed safety.
“You’ll have to go alone.”
“Then we’ll die together.”
“That’s pathetic. Stupid.” Giving in.
The girl’s feet shuffled forward slowly. Her trust was nonexistent and present at the same time. It made no sense to her but it’s all she really had. The rain washed away hope she had suffered so long to maintain. Her eyes darted around her. The surrounding area was unfamiliar. He seemed to know where they were, though. To be lead. It wasn’t something she was used to. Independence was something she had learned to manage at a young age. Now she was a dependent. Weak. But strong. It was all very confusing.
“It’s only down the road. About three minutes more. The station indicated it to be a pub. There’ll be food. People, hopefully. Water. Not rain water. Safety.”
His words were promising and beautiful. Something like a dream. A wish of sorts.
She let him lead her. Three minutes felt like hours. The weight of months without adequate rest weighed down their bodies and the fear of impending danger kept them on alert, startled by the least amount of movement that the wind brought. A drizzle had turned into a downpour and would soon be a storm. A natural painting of what the world had drifted into over the past few months. A deadly, growing storm.
To their advantage, the door hung open. The area inside was damp. Vacant. A bad sign but also a blessing. As long as no one remained inside, they could board overnight without worry. The locks on the door were functional. Rust had only just started to move in. Wool blankets scattered the concrete floors. So there used to be inhabitants. Obviously, they had moved on. Or. Moved on.
“So we survive the night.” Confidence in her voice once more brought relief to the man.
“That’s the plan.”
“But if we don’t?
“We will. No one else is coming. Looks like they jumped ship months ago. I doubt there’s food but we can manage on what little we have left from our last run a few days ago. Fine. Everything will be fine.”
“And the outside? Shouldn’t we be focusing on what’s out there that will undoubtedly be clawing to get in?”
It would be better to remain alert than to allow their hearts to rest and their heads to lie on concrete, allowing them to sleep through the night. Worry ate at the girl. The entire situation seemed to be a gift there weren’t going to have for long.
“When I close the door, for the time being, the outside world will cease to exist.”