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Those Who Lose
Nothing has been the same since the day the bombs fell. The day that the land turned to barren ash. The world turned against each other, and it caused our downfall. The end of the world was not what I was expecting. I was the unlucky one who did not leave with the others. I was cursed to see the darkness that was life after their deaths.
The war has been raging for sixteen years. It started on April first when I came into the world. My mother told me that I was born that day because I was destined for greatness. She even decided to name me Albert, after some math guy that had been dead for over two hundred and fifty years now. My father was a general in the Air Force. I've only seen him three times because he's been so busy fighting the war. Last I heard he was on his way to stop some fighter planes coming over our land. The plains came with more destruction. He hasn't come back.
That very fateful day was as normal as it could be for my city. It was my birthday and mother always planned something special for me. I woke to the sound of screams, this was normal for me. I looked out the window in my room to across the street were someone had just collapsed in pain. The radiation will do that. If you're lucky the blue spots won't appear on you until your fifties or sixties. The blue spots are a sign that you have radiation poison. There is no cure. Most aren't so fortunate and fall much sooner. My mother was lucky to have had me at a young age so to have me raised should she get the spots sooner rather than later. She is thirty four now and the healthiest I know.
I get dressed and go down the hall to the kitchen where I pack my school authorized lunch of a beef and cheese sandwich with milk. After, I go to the bathroom where I fill one fourth of our days water in a bucket to clean myself off. I look at myself in the mirror and am sullen when I see that I have lost more weight. A five foot eleven tall kid that only weighs one hundred pounds. This is how most of the people in my city look, dark circles around their eyes from lack of sleep, and so slim you can sometimes see the outline of their bones. I have dark circles but not as bad as yesterday. My long wavy chestnut hair hangs down to my shoulders. I have green eyes that look misplaced from the rest of my features. My eyes are the only things that I have left to remember my father. I sigh and head out the bathroom door, not wanting school to begin.
Due to the war students only attend school a mandatory three days a week. We now have ten hours of school because of it. Today is our first day back after a four times a year drill that everyone must participate in, in the case of bombs ever being dropped on our city. After I'm done cleaning I walk to the living space next to the kitchen to kiss my mother goodbye.
“I love you mom. I'll see you after school.” I smile fondly at her and admire her beauty. She has the same chestnut hair like mine although she insists on keeping hers cut short, only letting it grow as far as her ears. She has bright blue eyes that are filled with joy, she even manages to keep the circles under her eyes faint. She gives me a bear hug and then kisses me on the cheek.
“I’ll miss you Al. When you get home I'll take you somewhere where we can celebrate your new year.” She says with joy. Her voice is a little horas from her passing illness but I can still hear the melody behind it “Now you go off to school before you are late. I'll see you tonight.” I hug her one last time than start the thirty minute trek to school. Tonight. I think to myself, No pain or sorrow. For this is one of the few nights of the year with no worry for me or my mother. If only I had known how wrong I was.
I walk out the door into the musty smell of the autumn morning. For a small moment I forget that the world is in pieces around me. But the smell of smoke and burning flesh in the distance is never far behind.
I walk along the forgotten, broken sidewalk towards school. I look at the buildings on either side of the road. Broken glass in front of shops that have been abandoned and emptied by people desperate to survive. Large building tower over me with the rusty steel creaking in the wind. I see the slight hint of a fire in the 6th floor window of an old motel and wonder if its someone who has no place to live due to bombings of a different city, or if its someone with the blue spots waiting out there remaining days alone.
Even though it is harder for us with the war we are still able to have a little free time. Running is a fun past time for kids like me who don't like being cooped up inside all day. It's very relaxing and it builds strength in my legs incase any soldiers try to attack our home. Thankfully I have my best friend to do that with.
After about fifteen minutes of walking I approach a small red house that looks out of place with the rubble of fallen towers surrounding it. I knock on the side of the house next to the curtain that they have hanging over the door frame. A tall, lean and muscular boy answers the door. Smiles spread on both of our faces as we clasp each other in a friendly hug.
“Rob! It's great to see you!” I exclaim in excitement. “How is your dad doing? Are the blue spots worse?” Robs father was found with small blue spots on his back a few weeks ago. Thankfully discovering them so quickly is giving him time to say his goodbyes and spend his last moments with his son. Rob is a year older than me with pitch black hair and a round muscular form. Even though he is one of the poorest I know, he is still one of the most handsome. He is shorter than me, but only just. He stands at five foot nine and is about as slim as I am. He likes to stay in shape more than I do. This makes him look more healthily fed than he really is.
He has been my best friend since I was thirteen. My father had just seen me for the last time and he had told me that I wasn't going to see him again until I was an adult. Rob was my comfort. He held me and reassured me that my father was going to be ok. After the news came that he was MIA, Rob was there in my sorrows. Over time as the pain dwindled away, me and Rob grew closer. We've been at each others sides ever since.
“Oh, about that…” His face fell and I saw both sorrow and relief behind his eyes. “He died two nights ago….during the drills…” He bows his head and I silently hope that Mr. Groosher had made it to some place better.
“Ah Rob Im sorry. But now what are you going to do?” I watch as he thinks about his answer. A small tear escapes his cheeks. His father was the only person left alive, besides Rob himself, that had known his mother.
“I think I'm going to bury him under the bridge on Sanders Street. That's where he and mom had first met during the drills. He smiles sadly at me. “Well, come on” He says, trying to change the subject “We don't want be late for school.” Together we walk along the abandoned streets towers Burke High School.
Our school is nothing special when we get there. Same broken bricks that, if your not careful, could fall on your head. We walk into the halls and I tell Rob I'll see him after ninth period. I prepare myself for the long day ahead as I turn and walk into my first class. I take a seat in the back of the room and toon out the small buzz of the other nine people who decided to come to school today. Soon I start to doze in my chair.
Im startled awake when I’m pushed from my chair by some crazy kid screaming and running for the door. I'm confused for a split second. Then my brain starts to work again and all at once im hit by the chaos around me.
Kids are running in the hallways yelling at each other and telling friends that they love them. What really sends a shiver of pure terror down my spine is the faint sting of the siren in the distance. My heart drops to my stomach. ‘This can't be happening! Not today! I am momentarily frozen in my place. My body refusing to consume this information. I start to shake.
Finally I am able to bring myself up onto my feet. My legs trembling so badly I can hardly stand. I force one foot to move. ‘Step. Step. Pause. Breath.’ I start to move a little faster. ‘Step. Step. Pause. Breath.’ In seconds, minutes, maybe hours, I'm not sure, I'm finally at the door.
‘What do I do?! What do I do?!’ My Mind is racing of over one hundred miles per hour. I start walking down the hall in hopes that my feet will take me where I need to go. ‘Will Rob be ok? Will everyone be able to get out in time? What about mom…….?’
I stop dead in my tracks. People are pushing and running around me. ‘Mom!’ I take off in a sprint for the door. She is probably worried sick about me. she'll be out looking for me and I can't let her do that! She needs to stay safe!
I sprint all the way home. It takes me about 10 minutes to get there and I know i'm cutting my time a little too close for comfort. The sound of my heavy footsteps as I run frantically toward the house echo off the walls of the abandoned building around me.
She must have heard me coming because I can see her about 20 feet from the house looking in my direction. She gasps in shock when she sees me.
Than I hear them. The growl of the heavily armed fighter planes that are on a course set for right above us. I pick up my pace. My legs are aching and I'm completely out of breath but I keep going. They are getting closer with every step I take. I shout at the top of my lungs as to be heard over the sound of the incoming planes.
“You need to get the the bomb bunker in the house! I'll be right behind you!” I can hear the worry in my voice and I hope she heard it to. I watch as she stands there unmoving, her face looking up in shock at the fighter plate honing in on us. She looks back at me and I see a tear slips down her cheek.
She mouths “I love you” to me and than gives me a soft sad smile.
“Mom!” I scream with terror and anguish. A bomb drops. It's on a different side of the town. I watch as the large mushroom cloud rises in the distance. Thankfully our city is about one hundred and forty miles round so its not close enough to kill us. But it is close enough to send a large gust of hot burning wind at us. It's so powerful and sudden that it throws me into a ditch by a nearby building.
I hear my mother shriek and than a very loud crunch as something heavy hits the buildings down the street. I can barely comprehend what just happened due to the force of my head hitting the wall behind me when I was thrown.
Spots begin to cloud my vision. I can hear the deafening sound off the plane propellers directly above my head. There is a slight click. For a second it feels like fire has consumed me. I cant breath in. There is smoke and dust in my eyes. My ears are ringing from the loud bang as the bomb hit the ground.
My head is pounding much worse than before. My body is starting to go numb. I can't move. I don't have the energy to hold on. I force myself to take a breath. Everything goes black.
I awake to the eery, consuming darkness that surrounds me. There is no noise. Not the thump of people walking. Not the grown of the buildings that surround our house. Not the light chirp of a bird who is flying freely. Nothing. Nothing except for my heavy and courase breathing.
My head is aching uncontrollably and there is a sharp pain on my right wrist. I look around but am unable to see anything. I try to move my hand but it then explodes with agonizing fire. I let out a whimpering shriek than wait for the pain to become barable again. I again try to rise, being careful not to move my wounded hand. I get up to my knees when my head hits hard on something above me.
I place my left hand above my head and feel the smooth surface above me. I keep feeling around until I feel my hand run around the edge of what must be stone. I give a small push to see if the rocks on top of it are stable or if I will be able to lift it at all. The piece is surprisingly light and I push it out of my way with ease.
Im blinded by bright burning light. The smell of death drifting through the air. I squint as my eyes adjust to the sudden burst of energy from the sun. I slowly rise and take in my surrounding. Everything is gone.
How long have I been out? I wonder. Nothing is burning anymore and the ground looks to be soft. Its had to have been a day at least because the soft ground and no fire is a sign of rain.
I look at my city in horror. Most of the building are down and are now only empty shells of what they once were. Not that they were much before but now they don't stand at all.
I carefully crawl up the stones that had been covering me. As I look back I see that the building I had crashed into was also fallen, but it had been those oh so fatefully pieces of stone that protected me while in my painful sleep.
As I glance around I see that most of the buildings are gone. I look to where my home should be and gulp at the sight of it buried under a pile of rubble from when the building next to it. The sides that are somewhat still intact are charged black front the hot flames that had touched it. I doubt there is anything of any value that could be saved.
I start to move when my senses finally all come exploding back to me at once. My ears are ringing painfully and my knee buckles from under me. I grit my teeth from the pain but soon realize that it can't be a break because I am still able to use it. I fall to the floor and finally reister the pain that is seering my back and my shoulders. I carefully reach my good hand up the the beginning of my shoulder blade and wince as my fingers run over the hot pulsing blisters that coat my back form. I don't feel any major deformations in my skin and muscles which is a good sign. They must be second degree burns. I taste the blood in my mouth. I must have bitten my cheek at some point and not have realized.
I try to stand once again I stumble across the street to the left. I try not to cry out from the pain. I finally reach the place where my house once stood. I climb my way onto the fallen concrete and crawl to where I believe that bathroom had once been, all the while trying not to move my wrist or further damage my leg.
I start to lift the small pieces of stone that I can. After what I would estimate to be about twenty or so minutes I finally am able to find the bandages in our only cupboard. They were both buried about three feet deep.
I gently reach up to once again feel what is the excruciating pain that is emanating from my back. I wince but im soon able to conclude that none of the large blisters that had formed by my spine had broken open yet. I gently slide my shirt off, being careful to make as little contact as possible with my sore back. After getting it off I unroll the bandages and start to bandage my injuries. I wrap almost my entire torso in the bandages. I put my shirt back on then start to climb back down off from what used to be my house.
Once I am safely on the ground I acknowledge the pain in my head. My mind is a bit fuzzy from what happened before the fire rained down on me.
How was my head hurt so badly? I wonder to myself. Where do I go from here? I begin to walk and hope that my feet will take me somewhere. I walk down the street away from what was the only home I had ever known. I concentrate on trying to regain what memory I had lost.
I woke up today and went to Robs house. I recall as I slowly limp down the street. For a moment I wonder what became of Rob. Was he able to get out in time? Did he get to a safe place? Is he alive right now?
I stop in the middle of what used to be the street but what is now cracked up and burned stone. I got to school and that was the last time I saw Rob. I fell asleep in class and when I woke up….. I feel my eyes grow wide as the terror settles itself in my stomach. When I woke up the sirens were blaring.
In seconds all of the horrible thoughts come flooding back into my mind. The images flash through my eyes like a train. Me running home. Me hearing the plains coming. The torturous thud of my shoes crashing against the road as I race towards my mother. Her coming for me. Her telling me she loved me like it was the last time i was going to see her. The first Bomb. Then the Second one only much closer.
I blink the tears out of my eyes as my ears ring with the horrible shriek that must have emanated from her lips as the gust of ash and fire threw her away from me. I look around my hopeless surroundings and discover that due to my limp I had not actually gotten very far.
Than I see it. The bright red scarf I had gotten my mother six years ago for her twenty eighth birthday. Was she wearing it the last time I saw her? The scarf was sticking out from underneath a small piece of concrete. I stare at it for a long while. My mind wandering to dark places. It isn't until my eyes shift to the right that my nightmares become a reality.
I run over to her as fast as I can go with my injured knee. I drop down beside her, the tears already streaming silently down the sides of my face.
“Oh mommy……” I whimper to her. I put my good arm underneath her and lift part of her body up so that it is resting on my chest and shoulder. “I'm so sorry mommy. I'm so, so sorry” The tears are like waterfalls. They flow down until they drip off of my chin and fall onto her already damp hair from whenever it had rained. Her face is charred and black along with the rest of her body. The little skin she has left is cold to the touch. I can still see her beauty. I slowly run my fingers through her soft and wonderful hair as my cries echo off the now dead heart of the city we can no longer call home.
I sit for what must be hours before my tears finally start to subside. When my vision is no longer blurry and my head no longer pounds from the force of my sobs. When I finally look up the sound has returned to the world. I can hear the small call of the crickets as they reunite with their loved ones. The sun is setting on the day and it's strange how something can be beauty in the middle of all the sorrows in the world.
I stand slowly. No longer shaking from my injured knee but because My legs can't carry the emotion inside of my heart. It feels as if there was a place inside of me that has now been ripped open, and the worst pain of all is knowing that it will never be able to be fixed.
I slowly walk down the street once more. I cough into the open air and am not surprised to find that my voice is hollow and scratchy from my wails of grief for my late mother. AFter about thirty minutes I am finally able to make it closer to the city center. I keep looking around and soon discover that it wasn't just parts of the city that were bombed. This wasn't just a targeted attack like most of the cities around us. This was meant to destroy and kill as much as possible. The existence that I was once comfortable in was now nothing but ash.
Behind me I hear the rumble of small pieces of stone being pushed aside. I whip my head around in alarm in time to see that last of the rocks come to a halt just a few feet away from me. This time it's not the rocks I hear behind me, its footsteps. My entire body goes stiff. The hairs on the back of my neck are standing straight up. My breathing escalates.
Why am I so afraid? I think to myself. It could be another survivor who is relieved to see that they are not alone. My mind wonders further into anxiety. It could also be a survivor who is desperate enough to hurt, maybe even kill, in order to find food, clean water, or any other kind of helpful resource. I start to shake at the thought. My good hand tightens into a fist. I'm ready to put up a fight for my life.
I turn my head slowly around to face my foe. My mouth hangs open in shock at what I see standing before me. It's a dog, staring at me quizzically. Almost as if it were asking why I was here and didn't bother to bring any food for it. My eyebrows raise in question. I slowly bend down in front of it and stare at it. It stares back as if its a contest.
“Your not such of a wild animal now, are you?” I ask the dog. I lean forward to try and touch it but it whimpers and backs away. “No, Its ok. I'm not going to hurt you.” I raise my hands in the air as if in surrender to the dog. “You don't happen to know if there are any other people around here do you?”
To my utter surprise the dog barks at me and starts to walk in the other direction. I sit in astonishment for a short moment. I didn't know if the dog had actually understood me or if the radiation in the air was already taking effect on me and I was slowly becoming crazy. I finally decide to follow the dog and find out the answer to that question my self.
We wind through unnatural new paths that had formed when the ash and the rubble beseeched the land. We duck under the shadows of the skeletons of buildings that lerk over our shoulders. The dog does all of this with his nose pressed to the ground as if he can only follow his path through smell. After about five minutes of this my legs still follow the dog but my mind wanders in inquisitiveness.
How long was I unconscious under those rocks? I puzzle with this question for only a moment before another question creeps into my mind. Where is everyone? We learn in our drills that we should only wait up to a day for survivors should our city ever come to ruin. This means that if I was out for too long any who had also survived would have taken all the supplies they could scrounge up and left for the next nearest city in seek of a new home.
My heartbeat starts to quicken. My mind werles frantically with all the most horrible outcomes of the situation I have found myself in. The worst being my slow and painful demise. This makes my search even more imperative. My new goal is to find the others and hope to recognize someone in the small groups.
If there are any left at all….. The thought pops into my head without warning. I quickly banish it from my mind and force myself not to dwell too deeply on the idea. I have to keep going. Rob could have survived. He could be waiting for me. I force my feet to move at a slightly faster paste. Even with my injured knee I am determined to find my safe place.
After some amount of time has passed and my feet are feeling as though they are about ready to break off, the dog comes to an abrupt and sudden stop in front of me. He stands with his tail straight out and his nose pointed slightly up. He does not move. He stares into the dark shadows of a building that only has one wall left standing, and even that is all crisp and black. I move in front of him. He makes no notice of my existence. I look on in fear at the wall that has caused him to do this.
I take in a large and full gulp of the polluted air and shakily move in the direction of the wall. After I am a few yards ahead of him, the dog finally revives himslef and comes dashing at me from behind. I am already under the shadow of the wall when he does this. He races past me and barrels into the frame of where a door once stood. I run, or rather limp speedily, behind him. As we exit from the other side of the wall I now have to put in more work to climb over the rubble of this building that in the past had stood proud and tall.
I glance around before noticing that the dog was now at the other end of the rubble pile and was back ono the dead and faded earth. I could only slightly hear him whining and pawing and something that was on the ground. As quickly as I can I walk over to the dog and look down to see what he is so worked up about.
I am shocked at first, than relieved to find that the dog had found one of our city shelters for us to hide in the case of an emergency. The dog continues to paw and scratch and whine at the door. I quickly start to wonder if there are anybody in there. I immediately bend down to open the latch. In my excitement I yank on the chain a few times before it finally breaks open to reveal a rickety set of stairs leading down into what looks to be a small source of artificial light.
I gently place my left foot on the top step and slowly push my weight down onto it. It creaks loudly but does not move in ant alarming way. Most bunkers in the city are fairly safe but I have heard of many accidents that have occurred due to lack of structure on some of these stairs.
I carefully an tenderly make my way down the two stories of staircases it takes to get to the bottom of the bunker. When I enter the small cramped space I have to wait patiently for my eyes to adjust to the nearly extinct light that is coming from a single flickering lightbulb in the center of the room.
I walk in without hesitation. To my dismay there are no people here. My heart sinks in my chest and the agony of losing my mother mixes with the lost hope of not being alone.
It's been more than a day. I state to myself. Anyone who was in here is gone. They could halfway to the nxt civilization for all I know. I bring my uninjured hand to my face and sit there in the cold, quiet room for quite some time.
After a few moments I here the tap of the dogs paws hitting the wooden stairs as it travels down to come and join me. It sits by my side and looks up at me remorsefully. I gently pat its had and scratch it behind the ears. it is now the only thing keeping me company. it then gets up and starts to stalk around the room. it sniffs all of the cupboards for a second than continues on to the next one. it does this for about a minute before he sniffs a little longer at one of the cupboards on the other side of the room. He whines and paws at it than looks up at me expectantly.
I rise and stalk over to where it is standing. I look down at yet another door that it wants me to open. It is highly likely that there will be nothing to find in it. Anyone who was down here before us would have looked all of the things that they could possibly find. I half heartedly bend down and open the door for him. My eyes go wide at the site of food and two three canteens of water.
Nobody must have been here after all. I think forlornly. I anybody had been here they would have taken all they could have. I slowly reach in and take out a full loaf of bread thats wrapped in plastic and gaze at it in amazement.
“This is fresh. It must have been newly stocked just before….” My eyes fall and my voice grows a little weak at the memory. “Just before the bombings” A single tear escapes from my eyes and slides soundlessly to down my cheek before falling onto the floor.
I wipe the wet off from my face before reaching back into the cupboard and pulling out the first thing my hand closes on to distract myself. My hand closes on a rough piece of what feels to be paper. I pull my hand out and stare blankly at the crumpled and ripped piece of parchment in my hand. I unfold it and my eyes grow wide with every sentence I read.
To whom it may concern.
I write to you with the hopes that this food that our party has decided to leave behind for you will mean the difference between your life and the darkness of death. I was able to convince the other ten in this party to leave behind what we could in the case of someone being left behind. The bombs fell here on May fifteenth of two thousand two hundred and twenty one. Three of us stayed behind and extra twelve hours after the first part of the party decided it was time to leave. This is the information we have learned. We Were attacked with the purpose of death. Most cities that have reported being bombed before only report of one bomb dropping in one part of their city. While here we where able to find signs of as many as seven bomb droppings. There where not many survivors. Very few made it to bunkers, thus leaving only two hundred and forty two, out of eight hundred sixty seven thousand, three hundred and ninety four people. Many of us remaining are haunted by the spirits of those who we have lost. Our team has done our best to bury our own loved ones and push the forgotten bodies of others onto the sides of the streets and into places out of site. Unfortunately, we were only able to do this with the streets close to the center of Omaha City.. In this cupboard you will find four canteens with fresh water in them, two loaves of fresh wheat bread, nine cans with carrots in them, and four bags to carry the supplies in. You will also find a pot for cooking things in and supplies that are needed to build a fire and hunt for meat. This is all we were able to provide from this bunker but on the back of this paper you will find a map that leads to the other four bunkers that were also willing to leave behind some supplies. One of these bunkers was already stocked with some meat, this bunker is marked with a square on the map. I do hope that these will give you a better chance at life. Our last piece of information for you is where you can find us. We have all decided to head for the closest civilization that has had no recent reports of bombings. This will be the city of Grand Island to the west of here. You will find us there. Goodluck.
I slowly turn the paper over in my hand and look at the worn out map on the back. I see three circles on it, all of which are a couple blocks apart. I see the square that shows where the bunker with the meat in it is at. I reach in a take out the four bags that were provided for us. I fill the first one, then the second, than the third. After the fourth bag is full I put the note carefully back into the cupboard in the case of anyone else stumbling across it. I stand and close the cupboard door. I sling the bags and canteens over my shoulder using my good hand and wince as they hit the sores and blisters on my back.
I walk over to the wall on the right where there are medical supplies that must not have been needed by whoever was here. My eyes scan the supplies until I come across what I was hoping was here. I reach up and take the small makeshift sling off the wall and carefully fasten it around my injured are so that I will not have to hold my injured wrist our entire journey. To my surprise I also catch a glimpse of an old, worn out crutch resting against the wall. I take it and place it under my good arm and am immediately relieved of the pain from my sprained knee.
I make my way to where we had entered but pause by the stairs when I realize that the dog is not net to me. I turn to see him lying by the cupboard whining. He looks at me with big, round eyes that are practically begging for something to eat. I sigh and walk back over to it.
“What's wrong dog?” I say with annoyance. It growls at me for a split second before continuing his whining. “You don't like being called dog? Well I have no idea if your a boy or a girl so I can't give you a name.” It whines even louder this time. “Fine! What name do you want? Spot?” It looks up at me with an Are you stupid? Look. “Ummm, how about Cally?” It growls at me deep in its throat. “Okay not that. How about…….Jessie?” At this the dog perks right up and starts wagging its tail furiously. I laugh at its enthusiasm. “Okay, Jessie it is”
I put my crutch on the floor and bend down to where Jessie is laying. I slowly slide one of the bags off from my shoulder, being careful not to rub it too badly against my back. I open the bag up and take out one of the loaves of bread. I unwrap it from the plastic and take out the crust from the front. I rip it into small pieces and place them on the floor by its head. Jessie eats every last crumb and is licking the floor after just a few seconds. I put the loaf of bread back into the bag and swing it once again over my shoulder. I grab my crutch from the floor and stand. I make my way to the door this time with the newly named Jessie behind me.
The map said that the bunker where the meat is stored is only a block and a half from here. I think to myself once I reach the top of the stares and exit from the doors that I entered from. Jessie exits and sits by my left leg. I pat Jessie on the head than start to make my way down the street in the direction of the other bunker.
When I get there I go through the same process with the doors as I had with the first bunker. I go inside and discover that the bunkers are identical to each other. I load one of my four bags with as much meat as I can carry. I quickly feed Jessie some of the meet so that we can both will last a couple of hours before needing food again. I stand and look around my fallen and lost city. I hold back my hot and heavy tears and than turn to start the long journey ahead of me.
I glanced up once again at the now setting sun. I've been tracking it since we left and I believe we've been walking for about eight hours now. I wince and sigh as yet another branch from the trees surrounding us scraps against my arms and leaves a long, red scratch on me.
I turn to look at Jessie who is still following me. Every once in a while he will whine and I will stop for both of us to have some food and water. Sometimes he will stop to do some business but after about two minutes or so he will reappear at my side. I have just come to the decision to assume that Jessie is a he to make life just a smidge easier in this crazy place we call earth.
“I think it's time for us to hit the hay. What do you think?” I ask Jessie. He barks at me excitedly and dashes for a large tree just ahead of us. I laugh at him a little than make my own way over to the tree.
I hang three of our four bags from a low growing branch on the tree. I rest my crutch on the ground and sit with my back on the trunk of the tree using the fourth back as a makeshift pillow for my head. Jessie comes up and lays his head on my lap. I sigh a sound full of pain and regret. I close My eyes and drift into an uncomfortable and restless sleep.
I awake to the sound of Jessie barking furiously from a few yards away from me. I slowly open my eyes as I register another sound coming from where I had hung the bags. As soon as I catch a peak at what was causing the other noise my eyes open fully and I leap to my feet. I gaze in terror at the site of our bags ripped to shreds and all of our provisions scattered or eaten at the paws a massive black bear.
As soon as the black bear notices that I have awoken and am now on full alert, it slowly turns its large figure in my direction. This bear must have been in the vicinity of some of our bombs because some of its hair has been burnt off to reveal bits of its pink, fleshy skin. It takes a step closer to me which makes Jessie bark even louder. I back away immediately with the fear emmination of off my body.
The bear gets to the spot that I had been resting just moments before and sinks its long teeth into the bag that I had been suing for my pillow. I gawk in horror before finally gaining my composure back
“Hey!” I yell at the bear to try and distract him from our supplies to me. It works but then I realise that I didn't think my plan all the way through.
The bear looks at me and starts to make it way towards me. I back up but stupidly corner myself against another tree. The bear gets closer. It lifts its paw up to strike me and I quickly realized that I get to see my mom again. I hear a large thud just at the moment I was expecting the terrible claws to slice through my flesh. I open my eyes to see the bear looking stunned at me and backing away.
I look at him quizzically and wonder to myself what had just happened. Then a rock hits the bear directly in between the eyes and makes an identical thud sound. The bear whines and backs away even more. It's getting closer to Jessie who is still barking his head off. I look in the direction the rock came from and gasp at the site of a girl crouched behind a tree.
She is wearing what looks to be a worn out ripped navy blue t-shirt with light skinny jeans. On her feet she wears black tennis shoes. From what I can tell she must be a little shorter than me. Maybe five foot eight or so. She has her black, messy hair up in a ponytail. Her eyes are such a bright blue that I can see them watching the bear from the large distance apart we are. She holds a makeshift slingshot in her muscular hands and I register that her entire body is like this. Large and muscular, definitely more nourished than I was.
The bear backs up too close to the barking storm that is my dog and roars in pain and furry when Jessie bites its hind leg. The girl runs at me and grabs the bag that the bear was in the process of eating. She grabs my arm and yanks me along with her as she runs in a different direction of where I was going.
“Jessie!” I scream back in the direction of the only friend I have left. Im resisting as best I can to the pull of the strange girl. I hear the roar of the bear again and the load whimpering of my dog as I watch the bear turn and clamp its jaws down on Jessie's sides. The bear pins Jessie down with its paws and sinks its teeth in further. I rip myself out of the girls grip and run back in the bears direction.
I grab a giant, heavy branch that must have fallen from a tree and use my new found strength to put all of my force down on the back of the bear that is hurting my friend. The bear releases Jessie and and roars in pain. It whorls on me but i'm already letting all of my anger and misery from theses past few days flow into the weapon that I hold. I shriek and sob at the same time as I repeatedly hit the bear with all of my might. I can finally hear the girl yelling at me to stop behind me but all the noises of the world are blurred out against the rush of blood I hear running through my head.
Finally I feel the firmness of the girl pulling on me to stop me from hurting the bear any further. I look at her with menace and she backs away when she's see’s how on the edge I am with my sanity. The bear whimpers and runs back into the trees and out of site.
I turn when I realize that everything is silent. The only noise in the whole forest is the sound of the girls and my heavy breathing. There are no birds. No wind. No rustle of leaves, bushes or grass. No sound of whimpering from a brave dog that just got attacked by a bear.
I look down at the still bundle of fur that was once brown but is now red with its own blood. I find myself kneeling next to him with no recollection of when I moved there. My eyes are blurred and burning with the tears that I am shedding for the friend that just saved my life. The dog that kept me sane through my sorrows. Now the tears flow freely and The agony that I have pushed so far down explodes like fire inside of me. I will uncontrollably into the morning air for all that was taken from me. My home. Rob. My city of Omaha. My mother. My dog and companion Jessie. My hope.
I sit in that one spot with my hand resting over the fatal wounds of the dog that I grew to love in such a short amount of time. My arms are now tainted with the blood of my life. My wrist that I took out of the sling when reaching for the branch without noticing is now numb from the tremendous pain that I had put upon it. I stand without acknowledging the girls still presence behind me. I close my pets eyes and turn and walk away. Abandoning all memory of good with him.
I walk past the girl to retrieve my sling and place my wrist back into it. I look around and discover that the girl must have been panicking more than I had realized because in her haste to stop me she dropped my last back of supplies into a puddle nearby. I pick it up slowly and see if there is anything of use still left. All I am able to find is some soggy torn up pieces of bread. I drop the bag back into the puddle without a care and walk back over to the girl.
“Thank you for helping stop that bear,” I say to her with no emotion in my horass voice. “I'm making my way over to Grand Island. You're welcome to join me if you would like.” I look at her dirty but rather beautiful face as I wait for her response.
“You must be crazier than I thought you were.” She scoffs at me. When she sees the dumbfounded look on my face she decides to bestow upon me more details.
“Listen man, the world decided that today was going to be the day to end civilization. Most cities in the entire world are gone. I'm from Grand Island. My family and friends are dead. I was making my way over to Omaha until I stumbled across you and noticed that your bags you were carrying said Omaha as well. The only other place that is said to still be life sustainable is Lincoln City. It's about, oh nine hours or so from here. It the closest place to go to be safe within six hundred miles of here. If we hurry we can get there before sundown. Lets go.”
Without another word she starts to walking into the trees. Me being the stupid teenage boy when he sees a pretty girl, fallows without question.
After what I assume is about three hours of nothing but walking in the shadow of silence the girl finally turns to me and speaks.
“Im Emerson by the way,” My eyes flash up to the back of her head in shock that she had finally decided to speak after such a long time. “But most people used to call me Em. Whats did they to call you?” Is keep looking at the back of her head for a few seconds before finally answering.
“Im Albert,” I whisper quietly. My voice still sounds like a frog from my tragedy earlier but I urge myself not to think about that. “Most people call me Al though.” She stays silent at this and I start to fear that she has learned everything she wants now and she won't speak to me again. Not wanting to sink back into silence I try to keep her talking.
“So, you said you were from Grand Island right?” She once again stays silent and I come to the conclusion that she will not be speaking again and that I have to accept that. After another hour as the sun says she finally speaks again.
“Yes I am From Grand Island. Except there's nothing grand about it now.” She draws a low, deep breath and I finally get a glimpse of the other side of her. She comes of as tough and mean and unfazed by anything in the world when really I couldn't even see that she was barely holding herself together.
“What happened to your home?” I quietly dare to ask. This time I am lucky enough to receive an answer.
“Like I said before Al, your city wasn't the only one that got bombed.” She sniffs and runs her hand across her cheek to wipe away a tear that I could not see. “Our warning sirens failed. The only sign we got was the hum of the plains as they came to destroy us. I was on duty to be cleaning one of the bunkers. I didn't even have time to close the doors before a bomb dropped right above me. I was knocked out. I woke about six hours later. I walked out into a field of loss and soon discovered that I was the only survivor, besides this person that I found at the edge of the city on my way out.
It was an old man who looked to be about forty something. He was wearing a uniform but it was covered in dried blood coming from a hole where his arm should have been. When he saw me he started yelling at me and telling me that this was the end. ‘The end of the world is now.’ He said. He told me of the information he had and that the only two cities left that weren't supposed to be bombed were Omaha and Lincoln. He told me that Omaha was safer so best to go there. It wasn't until I saw you sleeping like a baby in the woods that I discovered that his information was false. Omaha was bombed. The only place left to go was lincoln. If its still there at all.”
I keep walking behind her in complete and stunned silence. I feel instantly horrible when the first thing that I think after hearing all of this is, At least I'm not the only one who has suffered.
We continue our walking and I go through my life in my mind as we pass tree after tree on our endless journey. There are many things I regret. I regret not being more serious about my education at my others request. I regret not wanting to be anywhere near Rob's father for his final day in fear of being infected. I regret not running faster when my mother was in danger to ensure her safety. I regret letting my only friend in the world left die at the hands of a wild animal when all he was trying to do was save my life instead of his own.
We walk on until finally my stomach gives a deprived growl and I realize that I hadn't eaten anything for almost a whole day. Without my water canteens or the energy from food I was lacking the pep in my step that I required for this trail that we trek. My knee was starting to shake from the pain that it was having to carry due to me abandoning my crutch by the tree. But the worst pain of all was on my back. It felt like a million thick needles were being pushed through my skin with every step that I took.
Another few hours pass and I suspect that we must be getting close to our destination since it was only supposed to be a nine hour journey south from where we were at and it been almost ten and a half hours now.
Im struggling to keep myself up as with every step my body and mind refuse to carry on. My vision is blurry and it takes me a few seconds to process that I am now several passes behind Emerson than I had expected. She is making her way up a hill. When did that hill get there? I wonder to myself in my mind. I push my feet to go forward but just succeed in a floppy zig zag walk.
The gil reaches the top of the hill. She turns silently and discovers that I'm barely standing. She gasps in horror and stares at me in horror. I can't quite make out why. I keep walking. I'm so close to the top. I can smell Bread coming from the top. And I can hear my mothers sing song voice floating down at me. Or is that the shrieks of the girl trying to keep me awake? I can't tell the difference.
I drop to my knees and crawl my way up as fast as I can. My body's going numb.. The girl, what was her name, is staring at my arms with tears running down her face. I look down as I crawl and I finally see what she sees. My arm is covered in blue spots. How long have they been there? I keep crawling to the top but the girl is backing away from me know. I fall as soon as I reach the top. I look around but all I can hear i the heavy thud in my head.
I make out what looks to be the girl yelling at something over the hill. SHe is yelling, yelling, yelling in terror. I want to tell her that everything will be alright but I can't speak. I can't move. My head roles to the side and the last thing I see before I once again blackout are shapes running towards me and the shadow of Omaha behind them.
All I remember is darkness. I don't feel pain. I don't have emotion. Just the peaceful release of what must be death.
I can hear someone yelling at me to wake up. But I don't want to. Here there is no pain. No suffering.
My eyes slowly open and the first thing I see is bright blue. I try to move, to talk, to smile. But waking up brought the pain back. My back still hurts but the pain is less noticeable. I don't feel any pain in my wrist anymore. My knee still hurts and my eyes dart down to realize that it is ina cast and bandaged carefully. I lift my eyes to the bright blue once again. They smile back down at me with joy.
“Hey Al. Long time no see.” Her sing song voice that reminds me so much like my mothers whispers down at me. She smiles and I see tears running down her face. This shocks me considering I've known her for such a little time and have barely spoken to her.
“Hey Emerson” I manage to squeak out with some force. I ever so gently reach my left hand up and wipe away her tears. “Why are you crying?” I ask her quisically.
“Oh Al,” She sniffs, “You've been in a coma for about five months now. The doctors were discussing with me and someone else that it might be time for us to pull your plug. Than your vitals started changing and we knew you were about to wake up.”
I try to process this information with the best of my ability. Than my memory of what happened starts to seep back into my brain.
“The blue spots…..,” I whisper to noone in particular, “ I should be dead by now. Why am I not dead?” I urge at her with a little to much force.
“You collapsed on the hill just as the farmers on the outer regions of lincoln saw you. They helped me bring you into the hospital. Apparently just days before Lincoln city was able to find a cure for the blue spots. THe only problem was that the patient had to be in a coma for it to work.”
I frown up at her. A Cure? I never thought a cure was possible. I slowly raise my ips into a painfully sad smile. Than another question pops into my mind.
“You were the one who decided to put me in a coma?” I aks her with doubt. She laughs at me and more of her tears spill onto the floor.
“When we got here, I was able to find someone who knew you. A friend of yours from your hometown. He was able to make it here about two days before we did.”
I frown once again because for a moment I have no recollection of a friend from home. Then all at once my heart beats ten times faster. I smile with joy and a tear trickles down my cheek.
“Rob,” I say without hesitation.
That's right. We have both been waiting for you to wake up for a long time now. Once you are aloud to be released, you can see him again. You can finally be happy”
The room seems slightly brighter. I feel the pain in my heart and my head ease away at her voice muttering that soft word filled with hope.
“Happy,” I utter with joy.