There’s nowhere to go. The only way out is blocked by the monstrosity that continues to torment Mia and I.
“There’s no other way out is there?” I whisper, my mouth practically touching her ear. She moves her head the slightest bit confirming my suspicions.
“Then, when I go, you run as fast as you can back to where you found me.” Mia tries to turn towards me ready to protest but I squeeze her arm with all the strength I can muster. “Don’t. It might see you.” Thankfully she listens to me. She stays as she was, facing the grotesque and deformed animal that somehow stands before us.
“I didn’t save you just for you to throw your life away,” Mia whispers, her voice full of the anger I’m sure is clear on her face.
“If I can save someone with my life then it was worth it,” I whisper gliding my hand down to her lower back. “There’s no turning back from this. You run and you don’t stop.” I command, bringing my other hand up to Mia’s pack.
“Now go!” I yell, pushing her out the door, the blanket coming free from her pack with the shove. It all happens in a split second. Mia hits the dirt and starts sprinting towards the trees in the distance and in that second, that monstrosity of an animal turns towards her caught off guard. Taking my chance I leap forward, blanket tight in my hands. I fall, with the blanket firmly pressed into the ground as the beast struggles against the unfamiliar fabric. It’s growling impossibly low. It’s then that the smell hits me. It’s a gagging odor that I can almost taste in the proximity. The blanket tears as the beast claws at the fabric, desperate for an escape. I take my chance and pull the blanket’s ends together with all my might. I barely manage to drag it under the thing before it rights itself in the fabric. I hastily tie the ends before hauling myself up and sprinting in the direction I shoved Mia.
“Not again. Please not again,” I think as I sprint forward, willing myself to go faster. My pack pounds against my back with every footfall. The growling is rapidly growing quieter, giving me the motivation to move ever faster. Before long I can’t go further and I fall onto my hands and knees, desperate for a breath. I wrench my pack off, it’s contents spilling onto the ground. I gasp, desperate to bring air into my lungs as my mind struggles to catch up. I can’t… I can’t just leave her, not against that… at least not alone. My head snaps behind me as the sound of twigs snapping reaches my ears. Suddenly she’s there, hazmat suit and mask, covered in dirt and out of breath... but there.
“We have to go. Now!” She pants as she struggles towards me, her feet dragging in the dirt. I don’t question her, I only act. I struggle up to my feet and quickly start shoving my things back into my bag. I’m not even halfway done when I can hear the growling again. I pick up my movements, shoving our limited supplies into my bag as fast as humanly possible. The growling continues to get louder.
“Just leave them we have to go,” she pleads, next to me now.
“I can’t this is all we have!” I exclaim shoving whatever I can into my bag.
“Fine, hurry then,” She allows, stepping behind me. The growling has grown deafeningly loud, and I can hear branches snapping in the distance.
“Okay, that’s everything, let’s go!” I yell, slinging my pack over my shoulder. I wrench myself to my feet only to fall again, a branch or root blocking my path. I turn back looking at whatever tripped me just to realize that the culprit was my gun and that monster was far too close. The beast was panting, somehow able to catch up to us on it’s mangled and fused legs. We were frozen, unwilling to startle the thing and provoke our own deaths. It had to be stopped, I can’t just sit back and watch one of these... things kill someone else. With the utmost care I inched my hand slowly to my gun. The metal shining in the moonlight. Without warning that animal lunged at her. All at once I brought my hand the rest of the distance, picked up the gun and fired. They both fall to the ground, one with a whimper and the other with a yelp.
I let the gun fall from my hands. It clatters noisily to the ground, as I struggle over to her. She isn’t moving, and it turns my blood to ice.
“Not again. Do you hear me?! You are not allowed to do this to me again!” I seethe. Fear turns to anger and anger turns to rage. A powerful rage that shakes the entirety of my being with its intensity.
“A little help here?” I stop, her muffled voice reaching my ears. Just like that the rage is gone, tremors replaced by all consuming relief. When I finally make it over to her everything becomes clear. The monstrosity of an animal is slumped onto her chest. Blood running down from its face where my bullet hit. It’s thick blood has already coated the majority of her hazmat suit, and there’s splatter on her mask, but she’s alive.
“You know I have to say, I didn’t think you would hit it in the head. Hell I even forgot you had a gun,” She jokes, her breathing labored by the weight pressing onto her chest.
“Me too,” I reply numbly as the adrenaline starts to fade, “Me too.”
That monstrosity of an animal was heavier than I would have thought. The amount of weight on my chest makes every breath I take a challenge. It was obvious something was wrong as soon as I saw the creature now lying on my chest. It wasn’t as lucky as I was. It didn’t have a shelter safe from the radiation, or a mask to protect it. There’s a dull ache in my head and I can’t get this thing off me, the sheer weight of the thing is suffocating. It presses me into the freezing dirt that lies below me, which only helps in stealing the little breath I manage to take in.
“Mia,” I gasp, “please get this off of me.”
“Yeah sure thing,” She responds shifting closer to me. In an instant the weight is gone from my chest, allowing me to take unimpeded breaths, the feeling one of the best I’ve felt throughout this whole endeavor. It’s blood is still warm as it makes it’s way down my chest, like small patterns being traced on a page. I place my arms behind me, my palms flat on the ground as I try to lift myself up. My arms, however, don’t listen to me and I only manage to lift myself a few inches. Without warning there’s a warmth radiating from the small of my back.
“Easy there,” Mia says as her hand guides me upwards. Her touch warms me as the much needed heat radiates through my body. It explodes from the small of my back, chasing away my chills as a child would chase a butterfly. Sitting upright only serves in changing the direction the blood drips down my torso.
“We need to go,” I say, struggling to get to my feet. My legs feel stiff as I bend them, I must have hit my head harder than I thought.
“Okay I’ll get my stuff,” Mia mutters. The world feels like it’s spinning and the lack of stable or ground objects doesn’t help. Standing sounds like the best option for…. What? I’m not really sure, but anything is better than the world spinning like a top. I straighten my legs, and for a moment, everything is fine. The world is still, and I can actually take in my surroundings. Then it swallows me whole in a tidal wave of input. The world feels like it’s on fast forward while I’m on rewind. I stagger backwards my hands flailing uselessly in front of me, unable to find my footing, before my foot catches and I fall. Suddenly she’s there again. Her warm hands clutching my arms, keeping me upright, worry evident in her eyes. She doesn’t say anything at first, she just pulls me towards her until I’m standing on my own two feet again. She doesn’t let go of me either. Her hands stay firmly in place on my forearms, warming my chilled body as her heat spreads. With a stable point to latch onto I manage to stop the spinning in my head. I look down at Mia’s hands, unable to make eye contact.
“What was that?” She asks grip loosening on my arms, yet her hands are still here. Almost as if she doesn’t want to let go of me.
“I...,” I sigh before taking a breath, “I must have hit my head harder than I thought.” I can’t look her in the eyes, I know the only thing there will be distrust. I wouldn’t blame her. She barely knows me, yet she has to take everything I say at face value. I don’t understand her or how her mind works. I don’t get how she can be who she is.
“I don’t understand you,” I mumble as my mind wanders
“And you think I understand you?” Mia questions, her grip tightening around my arm.
“What’s not to get?” I say looking her in the eyes.
“I don’t get how you can trust people so easily. It’s like you snap your fingers and suddenly there’s this bond, this... trust that should take so much time to earn.” She explicated, hoping I would understand.
“I don’t just trust people out of the blue!” I almost yell at her, “I trust people that give me a reason to!”
“Then what possible reason do you have for trusting me?!” She shouts, her grip tight on my arm now, but I hardly notice as a few tears involuntarily gather at the corners of my eyes.
“I trust you because you trusted me first!” I forcefully yell back equally as loud. “You were the one who came up to me and offered your help, or am I missing something here?!” I question as the tears make their way down my flushed cheeks. Mia stops then. I look down to my arm at her grip going slack, yet her hand doesn’t move from its spot. I look back up at her to see her look at the ground, before her head snaps up to look at me. I can tell some puzzle piece just snapped into place, but I can’t fathom about what.
“Th-that was just the right thing to do,” She mumbles quietly, sounding embarrassed. Then I get it. She didn’t think she deserves my trust. That, or she forgot about helping me.
“You forgot about that didn’t you?” I question, a smirk on my face.
“I did not!” She adamantly replies almost instantly. I laugh, picturing the way her cheeks have probably flamed red in embarrassment.
“You did and you know it,” I tease lightly my hand reaching for her’s as laughter continues to make its way up my throat.
“I wouldn’t forget something like that so easily.” Mia defends barely above a whisper.
“I’m sorry what was that? I couldn’t hear you over the sound of me being right,” I joke, poking her hand, finally causing it to drop from my forearm.
“Yeah right,” Mia scoffs rubbing at her mask. I take a few steps away from the bloody mess that lies on the ground only a few feet away.
“Anyway can we get going? I don’t want to be around when this thing starts to smell worse than it already is. At the rate we’re going that’ll be pretty soon too.” I push, emphasizing my point with a couple more steps backwards.
“You’re right let’s go,” Mia nods, walking passed me, grabbing my hand as she walks.
“And what is this for?” I ask raising my hand as I start to walk with her.
“This,” She gestures to our interlocked fingers, “is to keep you from falling over again. This way even if you start to I’ll be able to stop it.”
“Okay then. Lead on oh Great Direction Master,” I joke as we walk further into the woods, the moon’s light getting lost in the trees.