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I opened my eyes with hesitation, sad that my pleasant dream had ended so abruptly. A loud voice boomed in my ear.
“ALICE.” it said. I cringed against the volume of it and turned to the direction it came from. My sister Emily was glaring at me with her arms folded over her dingy shirt. She must have been working on something since the usual golden hue of her hair was muted by dust and dirt. A tinge of jealousy wormed it’s way into my gut. Even under all that grime, my sister was still beautiful.
“ Did I oversleep?” I asked. She rolled her eyes at me and yanked me off my tattered mattress. I stumbled, still not quite awake. Of course I had overslept. I did that every day. Yawning, I stretched my sore muscles and prepared mentally for the verbal beating I was about to receive.
“Thanks to you, we can’t leave as soon as we had planned. Don’t you know how important today is? If we don’t move we’ll be found!” She exclaimed. I looked away sheepishly. Emily always knew how to make a person feel bad. Apparently she hadn’t quite finished her lecture and opened her mouth for another round of verbal assault.
“I thought you realized just how serious this was and would be packed and ready to go. Instead I find you sprawled out on your bed! Get packing now or we’ll leave your things behind!” With that she stomped out of my room. I sighed and slid down to sit on the floor.
See, stock markets around the world had started to crash in 2009, when I was five, causing almost every country to spiral into chaos. People were panicked, stealing, and murdering one another over small things since they didn‘t know what was going to happen to them in the future. Almost immediately after the stock market crash, a deadly virus hit the United States due to overpopulation. It resembled the Black Plague from the middle ages and spread like wildfire throughout America and the rest of the world soon after.
We weren’t all doomed though. Thanks to the quick thinking of the U.S government, cities were built that were “safe zones” for the non-infected. People flocked to them, begging to be let in. It was no surprise that officials in charge of city admittance became selective about who got in and who didn‘t .
First teachers, important political figures, scientists, doctors and other people who would pass on America’s culture were admitted if not infected. Then came soldiers and lower-grade politicians who were chosen at random if not infected. Finally, common people were chosen based on IQ. If their IQ was at an acceptable level, they were then chosen at random if not infected. Everyone else was expected to die.
My mother, Emily, and I were allowed in a city since Mom was a teacher. However, we never had the chance to set foot on safe ground since she was found out to be pregnant. Not wanting to run the risk of Mom’s unborn child having the virus, the government cast us out as they did countless others. Ironically, Mom miscarried soon after and the reason we weren’t safe and sound in a city was gone. Not that it mattered though. Safe zones were at maximum capacity and weren’t letting anyone else in.
In a safe zone or not, we survived. We lived. Other people in the same boat as us helped support us and each other. We were alive eleven years after the virus. The only unfortunate side to our situation was that the cities were overpopulating and were on a mission to cleanse Earth of all survivors on the outside. I suppose it was because the government viewed us as dirty, diseased, and uneducated. It simply wouldn’t have been possible for us to co-exist. They thought the only solution was to get out their guns and annihilate whole communities.
We learned our lesson after staying in Chicago for too long one year. Our community had many people then. We had become nomads, going wherever we could find food and other resources. We didn’t move a lot but when we did, we were sloppy about covering our tracks. We didn’t think anyone would come looking for us. We were wrong.
The government sent patrol groups to eliminate any people they came across out in the open. In retrospect, it probably wasn’t all that hard for them to find us. We were a large group and left many tracks behind us every time we moved. Never the less, half of our community was wiped out. No one, not even children were spared. It was the single most horrific thing I had seen in my entire life. Now we were in St. Louis, all cramped up in a deteriorating apartment building. Even with only half of our previous number, we were so cramped it was miserable.
“Alice…” I heard someone say in a sing-song voice. I snapped out of the daze I had been in and looked to my doorway(there probably hadn’t been an actual door there in a few years) to see a boy standing there.
“Dominic, why are you in my room?” I asked.
“Why aren’t you packing?” He countered.
“Touché.” I pulled my long onyx hair into a pony tail and stuffed it into a ratty old beanie I had found in Chicago. From there, I gathered the little I owned and put it into my duffle bag. The whole process took less than a minute.
“There. All packed. Are you happy?” I asked, folding my arms. Dominic gave me a crooked smile.
“I thought I was just doing you a favor stopping in considering that your sister is only a few steps behind me.” He said smugly. I stuck my tongue out at him childishly. Even though I would never admit it to him, I was secretly kissing his feet for barging in like that. If Emily would have been the one to see me daydreaming, I would have been toast. Dominic was my age, orphaned at the Chicago incident. Though he was still goofing off like he did before his parents died, I knew it troubled him.
“What?”, Dominic frowned,” I don’t get a thank you?”
“How about a ‘get out’?” I asked. I chucked a pillow at his head. He darted out of the doorway, running off into the hall. No sooner than he did that, Emily walked in.
“Is there a reason why I was almost just pelted by a flying pillow?” She asked stonily. I smiled shyly.
“Um… it was Dominic’s fault.” came my weak reply. Emily gave me a ‘yeah right’ look and inspected my room.
“Okay. Are you ready to go?” She asked.
“Yeah. One minute though.” I said. She nodded and left me alone. Making sure no one else was there, I walked over to my bed and looked under it. There lay a small box that was obviously too ornate to have belonged in the decrepit old apartment building before hand. I grabbed it and pulled it out from under the bed.
Opening it, I saw the small decorated mirror inside. My mother had given it to me for my birthday and made me swear not to tell Emily that I had it. It apparently had been one of Mom’s most treasured things and she thought that I, since it was my father who gave it to her, should keep it. I looked into the mirror wistfully. My shining black hair peeked out of the tattered beanie I had on my head and my eyes shone like bright liquid amber. I looked like my father. Even though I had never met him, I knew I did.
The one time my mother ever talked about my father, she told me that he was a handsome man with dark hair and strange eyes. They met after Mom had Emily and before the virus. Mom described him as charming and boyish, as if he hadn’t quite grown up yet. They were together for about a year when Mom became pregnant with me. Instead of accepting his responsibility as a supporter to Mom and a father to me, he left her pregnant and alone.
It’s not like it was uncommon for two people who weren’t married to have children. It wasn’t like it was uncommon for one of the parents to leave because they couldn’t take the pressure. Still, Mom really loved him and it pained her to see him go. I knew that looking at me every day reopened the wound but she said that she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Alice are you coming or what?” Emily asked nearing the door. I hastily shoved the mirror into my duffle bag so she wouldn’t see.
“Yeah, I’m coming.” I said. As I was walking out of the door way, my ears pricked to the sound of shouting on the first floor. It was as if someone were smashing things and screaming. All of a sudden, gunfire sounded.
“Emily…” I said fearfully. I was so frightened I didn’t want to move.
“Fire exit.” Emily stated. She grabbed my wrist and pulled me toward the hallway. I dug my feet into the floor.
“Wait! What about Mom? What about everyone else?” I asked. She didn’t have to tell me. Even though I didn’t want to believe it, I already knew. All were on the first floor waiting to leave. I had been the one to stall them. I was the reason they were being killed. They had been waiting for me.
“Come on!” Do you want to die?!” My sister exclaimed. Before I could think, my feet were guiding me to the fire exit. We were on the second floor so if it really came down to it and we had to jump we’d escape with only a few broken bones.
Emily flung open the rusted door and to my relief the ladder was still intact. I climbed down first, testing each rung carefully so Emily wouldn’t step on a bad one and hurt herself. We both made it down without any problems. Carefully I walked to the edge of the apartment building, making sure to keep my body pressed firmly against the aged bricks. When I neared the end of the wall I poked my head out over the corner.
The front entrance was surrounded by men (and a few women) who were heavily armed. I cringed against the sound of rapid gunfire inside the apartment complex and realized that there was nothing I could do for anyone. It was a thought that made me completely hopeless. A tremor made it’s way through my body and I had to bite my lip to keep from crying out.
Two hands gripped my shoulders tightly and yanked me away from the scene. My own flew up to cover my mouth, stiffling a scream of terror. Heart beating rapidly, I turned around to face whoever it was. I had been hoping it was my sister but I knew that she wasn’t that strong. Instead, I was face to face with a sandy haired teenage boy. It was Dominic.
I couldn’t stop tears from leaking out as I threw myself on him, hugging him as tightly as I could. Even though I thought he was annoying I was thankful that he had escaped.
“We need to get out of here.” He whispered. Emily, a few feet behind us, motioned to an alley that was close to the fire exit. It was connected to a street that was lined with a few abandoned stores. We didn’t really have any other choice other than to be killed so we hurried to the alleyway. As we ran, I noticed that gunshots were becoming fewer and further in between. I prayed that Mom had somehow managed to escape.
We came out of the alley and onto the street. I would have kept running if not for the Hummers parked in plain sight. I skidded to a halt causing Emily and Dominic to crash into me.
“Hey! What was that?” A male voice asked. I looked around the corner to see who said it and saw three men with guns walking in our direction. I took another step back.
“We can’t turn back.” Emily whispered to me. She was right. The other people that had gunned the rest of our community down were probably finishing up and were on their way back. If we turned around they would likely find us .
“I guess we’ll have to run for it then.” I whispered back. I gripped both of their hands tightly.
“In case one of us gets shot we need to hold on to each other.” I explained. Dominic opened his mouth to argue. I put my hand up to silence him.
“If we don’t do it this way whoever is hit will get left behind. We may be slower but I’m not willing to lose either of you. Don’t worry about saving your own butt, Dominic. I plan on being in the rear. Okay?” I asked in a low voice. Dominic closed his mouth and looked away angrily. After checking to see if they both were ready, we darted off in the oposite direction of the men.
“Hey! Get them!” One of the men called. Gunfire errupted. Even though I had been running as fast as I could, I willed myself to speed up. Apparently Dominic and Emily had the same idea because they followed suit. I looked over my shoulder to see how far behind the men were and tripped. Involuntarily, I let go of Dominic’s hand and fell to the ground.
“Alice!” He exclaimed, letting go of Emily and skidding to a stop. As he neared me, the men started firing again. I tried to get up but my ankle screamed in pain.
“Go!” I exclaimed. He looked at me uncertainly, fear shown clearly in his eyes. Emily, not far behind him, began to run back toward me.
“I SAID GO!” I cried hysterically. Another barrage of gunshots went off causing them to back away and run. A single tear streamed down my face and I lowered my head as the men surrounded me. People always said that when faced with death, they became brave and unwavering. I didn’t believe them anymore. I was a shaking, crying, injured mess that was scared out of her wits. Whoever said those things had obviously not been faced with death in their whole life.
I looked up at the man standing in front of me. His eye caught mine and for a moment it looked like he made the connection that I was a human being just like him. The moment flashed by quickly because he then ripped the beanie off of my head and tossed it to the ground causing my long black hair to spill out of it. He took a step back as if stricken, amber eyes wide in surprise. The other men exchanged glances and noticing them, he shakily drew a pistol out of his hip holster and pressed the barrel to my forehead.
Beads of sweat were forming at his hairline. Grey was beginning to peek out of his short onyx locks and his mouth was set in a tight line. Strange, how it was the same shape as mine… His nose and jaw line were not unlike my own either. Suddenly, realization hit me.
“You‘re my father.” I said in surprise. His hand began shaking so badly that he had no choice but to lower his pistol. Fear rushed out of me and confusion took its place.
“Why are you doing this?” I asked in a wavering voice. Memories of the attack on the complex flooded my mind. The man stood there, unable to say anything.
“Don’t you know that you’re murdering people?!” I cried in hysteria. He flinched against the shrillness of my voice. I became angry at him. Why couldn’t he say anything to me?
“What’s going on?” The second of the three of them asked him. At that moment I took back what I had thought about the person who said they became brave and unwavering in the face of death because despite my injured ankle I did the unthinkable. I stood up and slapped him right there in front of his gun wielding companions. He didn’t strike me back or raise his gun. All he did was stare.
“Well? Aren’t you going to shoot me? I’m the same as all the other people you’ve killed!” I screamed. Tears threatened to fall but I held them back. My father… this pitiful excuse for a man didn’t deserve to see me cry. I would not show him weakness.
“Oh for heaven’s sake! I’ll shoot her!” The third man exclaimed. He had clearly had enough and stuck his pistol to the side of my head. The fear I had experienced before came back to me in a rush. Squeezing my eyes shut, I tried to prepare myself for him to pull the trigger.
“Don’t.” My father said, pushing the other man’s arm down. I opened my eyes to see him looking at me quizzically as he pushed the other man aside. I averted my own eyes, refusing to acknowledge him. Even though I had been dreaming of the day that I met my father, I didn’t expect him to be the person he turned out to be. I hadn’t bargined on him being a murderer. I couldn’t face him the way he was.
“Leave with your friends over there and don’t let me ever see you again. Next time I may not have a choice in killing you or letting you live.” He said, motioning to Dominic and Emily who hadn’t hid themselves very well. He turned around and all three of them began walking back to the Hummers together.
Dominic ran over to me as fast as he could and wrapped me in a tight embrace. When he finally decided to let me breathe Emily followed suit. I realized as they checked my injuries and crushed me with bear hugs that they were my family. Not the man that abandoned me before I was born. Not the man who thought a caring gesture would be sparing my life.
Certainly not the father who didn’t spare me a second glance as he walked away.