The sky is softly lit with the dull glow of street lamps as we run, our rasping breath the only sound I can hear. My heart is pounding so fast I feel like my chest will shatter into a million pieces. This is our last chance.
I turn to Aden, his dark eyes flashing with the same fear and determination I know I would see in mine if I dared to stop and watch my reflection in the puddles gathering by our feet. It’s a look well known in this world.
The whole air feels tense and still as if it is waiting for something to happen, which it will if we stop.
We have to keep going.
I have to go faster or it was all for nothing. I have to run until I can’t breathe, I can’t feel sorry for the people we left behind. A few metres in front of us, a lone lamp flickers and I tense, knowing Aden is doing the same. These streets are far from safe. In fact, they are a well known killing ground. My heart starts pumping out blood furiously, filling my chest with what feels like acid. A single drop of sweat falls to the ground from my forehead, splatting on the ground with only the tiniest of noises.
My whole body is going into overload, my brain buzzing with anticipating energy and my muscles going taut. Yet miraculously I’m still moving quickly, as if my legs know what lurks not far behind us, what waits for those who can’t get there fast enough.
As if my brain is trying to encourage me further, the words whispered to me by a stranger spin around again and again in my mind. ‘The gate, at midnight tomorrow. That’s when the last bus leaves.’ The last bus. Survival. Escape. Concepts only a few can dare to dream of tonight. I’m grateful we happened to be in the right place at the right time. A rustle behind us reminds me that we’re not safe yet. If we’re not already too late.
The thought creeps up on me, sending chills down my spine. I urge my sore legs to go faster, checking quickly that Aden is keeping up. I have no way of telling the time but I can tell it is slipping away. We should’ve left earlier. Then I see it, the five metre high gate that means we’re mere feet away from freedom.
My eyes widen as it fills my vision, the tall iron bars so close. That’s when everything goes to hell.
First, I stumble on a branch on the already slippery ground. Then, the thing that rustled in the bushes makes it’s move. I already know we’re as good as dead before my head hits the ground, splashing freezing water all around.
I’m definitely not going down without a fight though. I spring upwards with my hands the second they make contact with the ground, and launch forwards hoping and praying that Aden has the common sense to follow. The heavy scrape of claws echoes around the empty street as the thing follows in pursuit. It's getting closer, and closer.
The gate is getting so close now I can hear the muffled voices coming from behind it. I frantically wave three fingers bent in a claw shape in the air, the universal signal that I’m being chased. Three loud gunshots sound as the thing is blasted backwards. I just have to pray that it stays down. I don’t dare look back as I scramble through the closing gate, Aden following. Once we’re behind the bars, people dressed in dark clothing escort us to the bus. I notice the one who shot the thing standing silently, scanning for danger.
I step inside, eyes watching me from either side. It is smaller than I expected, probably only capable of taking up to 20 or so people.
‘First come first serve’ I mutter under my breath. Is this the plan for the final evacuation? There must be thousands left behind, only a lucky few managing to get out, which is actually what the organisation had been planning to prevent. Had the government managed to somehow infiltrate it so badly they had to shut down future operations? Is this what the world has been brought to?
My stomach twists as I realise that there are only two seats left. We’re the last ones who are leaving tonight, probably the last ones to leave ever, if this really is the final bus.
I look through the window and see the thing lying collapsed on the ground,barely centimetres from the gate. Neither Aden or me have ever seen one in real life , which is lucky if I think about it.
I feel the bus shudder beneath me as it prepares to set off. My eyes are glued to the thing and I can’t seem to tear them away. I stare in morbid fascination at it’s flattened white head, long arms and tail, and most of all the discoloured pale lumps that coat it’s dull skin.
Was it just my imagination, or did the lumps seem to be shivering slightly in the wind? The bus starts moving and I breathe in a sigh of relief. I finally shift round to face Aden. He has a strange look on his face and seems nervous.
“It’s okay... we got on the bus, didn't we?” I say, his anxiety spreading to me, as it has started to do over the past few months we'd spent together. He shakes his head slowly and tilts it slightly. He's never been a talkative type of person, and because of that I've come to understand this sort of behaviour, but even I don't understand what he's doing right now.
I would have thought he would be relieved...but, come to think of it.... why wasn’t I feeling relieved? I think about the way the lumps shivered in the wind and my skin prickles.
Was there significance to this? I think back to what I’d learnt about things, which wasn’t much considering during the little education I’d had they hadn’t even covered the creatures. My only knowledge comes from rumours I’d heard, and I can’t remember anything about large spots on them.
Lumps shivering in the wind. Shaking, like the way my small purse did when I emptied it out for money. Emptied. Oh my god. Fuck.
“We have to go now! Drive!” I screeched in terror,leaning down the aisle to yell at the driver. The bus was going up a hill now, and we would not be able to move fast enough, not even close to fast enough to avoid the things that the other thing had called for. How could I have taken so long to remember?, It was a well known fact about things, posted on the televised news back when the town square still had an electric billboard. I can still recall the news report, the reporter’s voice strained and clipped in an attempt at doing a calm voice.
'Scientists have recently discovered that Album unguibus creaturas, or more commonly known to many as things, have an adaptive feature that allows them to communicate amongst themselves without the knowledge of humans. They do this by shaking the pouches on their skin, releasing the liquid inside. This liquid then mixes with their blood. This creates an impermanent scent that only they can understand. The scent communicates to other Album unguibus that they are in trouble or have found an abundance of prey. If a human were to smell this, it would have a very similar scent to sulphur. If you do begin to smell something like sulphur in an unusual place, remember: Hide, Arm, Protect. Your government is in the process of evacuation to colder places where things cannot survive.’
Now it’s too late, and we are probably seconds away from being surrounded by things. Aden has his head in his hands, as do many of the other passengers.
By now, the bus has reached the steepest part of the hill, and the driver is doing his best to go as fast as possible. We’ll never make it.
I hear a scratch of claws coming from the opposite side of the bus, just beneath a window. The woman who’s had the bad luck of being placed there let’s out a small shriek, her face frozen in complete terror.
Another scrape. Then another. The woman jumps at each one, rocking back and forth and mumbling some kind of prayer, her eyes closed.
It is the man behind her that screams the warning too late, the claws already smashing through the window and grasping her neck. I can’t bear to watch.
A window in front of me and Aden’s seat smashes, and broken glass showers the passengers. I unplug my seat belt and move out of the way, diving to the floor. Then something slams into the side of the bus and it tilts to the side, hanging with only two tyres on the ground for what feels like hours, before steadying again. I hear a crash on the roof of the vehicle, and another window smashes. Screams fill the air and I can’t hear anything or think properly. The world around me feels like it’s in slow motion.
‘Aden!’ I cry out, my hands struggling to push me back to my feet. A heavy foot crushes my arm as someone attempts to run. The bus tilts again as the things ram into it all at once. This time however, it continues to roll to the side and then suddenly it tilts too far and I somehow have the presence of mind to realise it must be falling back down the hill.
My head crashes into the floor again and again and again and I jerk around smashing into seats and grabbing onto strangers’ hands.
How am I still alive?
I scream until my voice is hoarse and I feel like my throat has been ripped apart. I have never been so scared in all of my life.
This was supposed to be escape, freedom, all it has been so far is a nightmare.
If only it really was just a nightmare.
My head hits the ground one last time, and slowly, painfully slowly, the bus comes to a stop, still on it’s side.
There is a feeling of eerie calm in the air.
The calm in the eye of the storm.
I wonder if I'll soon pass out of the eye, and be thrown back into the hurricane.
I can’t hear anyone else breathing or screaming anymore. I could be the only one alive, if I really am alive, which seems unlikely. I’m lying on something, the misplaced object I’ve been holding onto while the bus crashed down the hill.
With difficulty, I sit up and turn around, and almost scream. I’ve been holding onto a thing. I leap backwards and grab a pole to steady myself. Vomit creeps up my throat and I feel like I’m going to be sick. The thing must have got trapped in the bus after it was knocked over, getting stabbed in the head by a long shard of glass in the process.
It’s dead, it has to be dead.
I hide under a seat just in case.
‘Aden!’ I whisper. No reply. I crawl under the rows of seats to look for him.
‘Aden!’ I say, louder this time. Still no one replies. I reach the back row, and catch sight of his thick, dark brown hair. I grab him, and shake him. His head lolls and a trickle of blood drips through his shirt. I examine him further, there is a giant purple bruise on his head. More blood flows down his body, too much.
Aden is dead.
It’s not like I even knew him that well,but it still hurts.
I’m alone again now.
I take one last look at his body, in a crouched position, and say a quiet goodbye.
Then I turn away.
Carefully, I lift myself up onto a seat and ..
Only now, after the shock has worn off, do I realise how much pain I am in. I look down at my arms and bite down on my tongue to stop myself from crying out. They are covered in long, red scratches that stretch all the way down to my hands, which are even worse.
My fingers are almost completely purple with bruises and one of them is twisted in a weird way. On top of these injuries, I’ve definitely twisted an ankle,maybe even broken it. Tears stream down my face and gather in a pool on a bit of my ripped shirt.
What am I supposed to do now?. The bus, the last bus, has crashed and even more things are probably on their way to come and rip me to shreds.
I can’t even bring myself to be afraid. What point is there in living when the last person left alive who cared about me just died?
My whole body screaming out in pain, I lean backwards against the chair.
Suddenly, I hear a crash outside the bus.
Great. More things. I don’t bother trying to hide.
Seconds pass and I don’t hear any loud noises. Surely if it was a thing it would have come inside by now? I wait a few more seconds. One, two, three.
I sigh inwardly.
What was it they said about curiosity?
I might as well check it out, it can’t be a thing or surely I would’ve seen it through the windows. Making for the upside down door, I crawl through the toppled bus, carefully avoiding bits of glass and debris. I gag as I see corpses all around me, the sooner I get out the better.
I reach the door and gratefully roll out. I do my best to straighten out and stand up but the most I can achieve is hunched over sitting position. Another crash, this time on the roof of the bus. I look up. It’s a cat. A cat.
Looks like curiosity didn't kill the cat this time.
I could laugh if I wasn’t in so much pain. The source of all that noise was a cat. I reach out with my arms and pull it down, I haven’t seen a domesticated animal like this for years. It’s a miracle it has been eaten alive yet, and I don’t just mean by things. Absentmindedly I stroke it, and it contentedly purrs and settles on my lap. This has been the strangest day of my life.