I’ve carried her before, but this time I think it’s a bit easier. Last time she was just unconscious in my arms, basically a dead weight. This time she can at least walk alongside me. This situation feels so familiar, something about it… just feels repeated. I smile to myself a bit as a the memory finally comes back to me.
“Stop squirming and let me carry you,” John complains, his arm wrapped around my waist as I hop next to him.
“No I refused to be carried! I can hop just fine.” I argue back at him, hoping forward with determination.
“You probably sprained your ankle, just let me carry you. That’s what big brothers are supposed to do you know.” John reasons with me as we continue down the forest trail.
“Well I wouldn’t have sprained my ankle if you hadn’t slid into my ankle in the first place.” I huff, stubbornly hoping forward.
“It was for the goal,” John defends, “Which I got by the way.”
“It was a soccer game for fun!” I exclaim, hitting him lightly with the arm that’s not over his shoulder.
“You know nothing is ever ‘just for fun’ with us,” he defends, rubbing his arm jokingly.
“Even still, I refuse to be carried willingly.” I state firmly, my leg wavering a bit from under me.
“Then I’m sorry about this,” John mutters sofly.
“What?” I question, looking over towards John. I only barely get a glimpse at his mischievous smile before he scoops me up into his arms. I yelp, at the unexpected feeling of moving through the air.
“Let me down!” I order, my face immediately turning bright red.
“Not going to happen,” John laughs, tightening his grip.
“This is not fair!” I exclaim crossing my arms over my chest.
“Life rarely is,” John laughs as he walks along the trail.
I’m thrust back into reality as she trips, almost bringing both of us down. “Whoa!” I exclaim, tightening my grip on her waist. “Do you want to take a break?”
“No. Let’s keep going,” she huffs between her ragged breaths.
“Well, I want to take a break, so you have been overruled,” I decide, leading us towards the closest abandoned building.
“Oh so now I don’t get a say?” She questions. Agitation clear in her voice.
“No you get choice,” I affirm as the building grows closer. “But due to the fact that you just almost fell over again, I don’t think your say holds much weight.”
“What makes you think I will actually listen to you?” She questions with authority she doesn’t have.
“Well that would probably have something to do with the fact that I’m carrying you right now,” I answer smugly, tightening my grip around her waist for emphasis.
“Fine, but let the record show, that I’m only taking a break because you are carrying me,”
“What record?” I snort
“Just the- Well I don’t know. The record?” She fumbles with her words.
“Well, I don’t have any paper anyway.” I shrug off as the shadow of the building looms over us.
“Another point to me,” She declares out of the blue.
“Another point? First off, when did you start this whole point thing? Secondly, what was the first point?” I demand confused.
“Well, I started keeping points forever ago. I just tend to forget about them,” she pauses as she rubs the back of her neck, embarrassed. “Secondly, my first point was having a bunker.”
“Okay, that is an unfair point system… I think. Still, what is this next point you are supposedly getting?” I question as we approach the door.
“Wow…” she pauses, staring at me as we grow close to the door. “I thought it would have been obvious. I have paper.”
“You know, now that you say it, it is pretty obvious. I don’t know what I was thinking,” I concede, pushing open the rickety door with my free shoulder. At first glance, it’s obvious this used to be a cafe. There are overturned tables littering the room, and what might have been a coffee maker behind the surprisingly undamaged counter. Another tip off of the former building’s purpose, is the multitude of mugs and cups that are scattered around. Only a select few mugs are still intact, sitting peacefully on the front counter.
“We need to leave. Now!” She orders, struggling in my grasp.
“Whoa. Calm down. It’s fine- we’re fine. What are you freaking out about?” I question, managing to keep my hold on her.
“We have to leave before he comes back!” Her breath is coming in faster with her every gasp.
“Who?!” I demand, my hold on her waist slipping.
I freeze at the name, before her struggling brings me back into focus.
“Okay, let’s- let’s um… let’s go. Come on. We can- we can take a break later,” I stutter, tightening my grip. We turn around to leave, but stop in our tracks at the sound of footsteps outside the building. “Shit!” I exclaim quietly as I crouch both of us to the ground.
“This is all my fault,” she whispers.
I listen, and can hear crunching of dirt just outside.
“If I hadn’t been distracted, I would have noticed my clothes outside, or even the two bodies hanging all of ten feet away from the front of this store.”
“I understand that you’re blaming yourself for this, but right now, I need you to shut the fuck up.” I order harshly, unable to hear the footsteps anymore.
“Fuckin’ bitch.” A familiar voice grumbles, far too close for comfort. “Fuckin’ hair fallin’ out all over the place. Knew I should have fixed the loose glass in my mask. Should have kept it at least. Might not have helped, but it’s better than this piece of shit bandana.”
“We have to go.” I mouth as I gingerly pick up a shaking foot and take a step towards the door.
“Come on, ” I dare to whisper, bringing us both completely to our feet.
“He’s still out there!” She mouths at me, her eyes wide as she takes small steps forward her shoulders shaking.
“We have to!” I mouth back at her inching my way towards the door, keeping my gaze locked to hers. I realize my mistake seconds after I make it. Not looking where you’re going has never been a good idea. Especially when you are trying to hide from a violent and probably murderous person, and there are bits of loud broken mugs littering the floor. The piece crashes against the wall, and the footsteps pick up again.
“Follow my lead,” I mouth to her as Hunter’s voice reaches my ears.
“Who the fuck is in there?!” His voice is shaky and uneven, we caught him off guard.
“Come out with yer hands up and maybe I won’t kill you.” He’s almost in the building now, I can see the smallest sliver of him, about to step up the stairs.
“He can’t hurt you. You can do this.” I sike myself up as Hunter takes another few cautious steps forward. “You can’t hesitate, just go!” I yell to myself inwardly, as I surge forward crashing through the front door.
The sunlight burns my eyes, even though we’ve only been out of it for a few minutes at most. Hunter gasps, clearly not expecting me and I take the opportunity and brace my shoulder as I plow right into him. There’s a loud thump from inside the store, and I really hope that means she listened to me. Hunter goes down with a grunt, dirt kicking up as he tries to get back up to his feet.
“Just run!” I yell, as I start sprinting as fast as I can away from that horrible man.
“Get back here!” Hunter yells, his gun almost certainly pointed at us. I really should have started running right after Mia ran out the door. I was never that fast to begin with, but I’m really counting on the adrenaline of this situation.
“Come on keep running!” Mia yells to me, from ahead. My legs bruns, my head pounds, and I can barely see through the sweat threatening to fall into my eyes, but I force myself to keep going forward.
“Fuck it!” I barely hear the words, before deafening shots ring out.
“No!” Mia yells, whipping her head back towards me. No she needs to run.
“Run you idiot! I’ll be fine!” I wheeze at her as loud as I can manage. She looks conflicted for a moment before she turns back and starts running faster.
“Please don’t get shot, please don’t get shot!” Runs through my head on blast. More shots ring out and I flinch. The dirt in front of me shifts without anything hitting it; no something hit it. A bullet, his aim is getting better. I chance a glance behind me and almost stop running in shock. He’s only five feet away at most. Suddenly the pounding in my head is overtaken by the pounding of his feet on the ground. He’s gonna catch me, I’m not gonna make it. Please no. Please don’t let him get me again.
“MIA!” I screech right as a gunshot goes off from behind me. A frighteningly familiar pain radiates out from my right shoulder. The force of the hit is enough to push my failing body forward and to the ground. I smash my face into my gas mask, my nose almost immediately starts gushing blood. I gasp as I struggle to bring in air. Hunter’s footsteps stop behind me, then there’s a pressure on my neck. His boot my mind supplies quickly. The little air I can manage to bring in is almost completely cut off. I can’t breathe, I can’t; I don’t know what to do. MY hands flail back at his leg blindly. My legs kick out sporadically trying to get purchase on any surface. Not like this please!
“Ple-please.” I gasp at Hunter. My face is pushed harshly into the dirt, and the little air I can manage to bring in is filled with dust.
“Y’er too late, you bitch.” Hunter growls, his boot pushing harder on my neck. “You shoulda taken my offer the first time.” There’s no air, I can’t I need to breathe. My hands dig at his boot faster more panicked my movements grow sloppy and panicked, my lungs are burning. Black spots start growing in my vision, please no I don’t want to die.
“Get off her you fucking son of a bitch!” Mia bellows, and suddenly I can breath again. I can hear dirt being kicked up and the sound of two people struggling, but that’s all I can manage to hear over my heaving gasps and sputters. Warm liquid is still flowing out of my shoulder and a part of me knows this isn’t good.
Not again! He’s not taking anything else from me.
“Get off her you fucking son of a bitch!” My feet are pounding against the dirt, and wind is whipping passed me before I can even register I’m moving towards him. In an instant I’m close enough to see the blood on her suit, and I jump at Hunter on instinct. My head just about lands in his gut, and we go flying away with my momentum. He hits the dirt first, dust going everywhere, and we slide a few feet. I waste no time getting on top of him and pinning him to the ground with my weight.
“You don’t get to!” I yell at him as I bring my fist down on his face. “You don’t get to take anything! Not from me! Ever again!” Each sentence is punctuated with a punch. My second punch connects with his nose and I hear it crack, one hits his eye and I can’t help but smile at the pained noises that escape him. But then his hands are squeezing my thighs, and I can’t help but freeze my fist inches from his face. A familiar house flashes across my vision. My floor; the vile smell of his breath as he leans over me.
“Get offa me , cunt!” He grunts, and my back slams into the dirt. My vision is consumed by the blazing sun, and I can move again. I look over at Hunter as he goes to stand up, but he only manages to fall back onto his back, with a sort of strangled wheeze.
“Mia..” she wheezes from next to me.
“Fuck how did I forget about her?” I berate myself as I flip over and scramble to her on all fours, not wanting to waste another second. She’s still on her stomach, struggling to bring in air.
“You okay?!” I almost yell at her, my hands going to her shoulder on their own. As soon as I make contact she gasps.
“He hit me. It hurts. Make it stop.” Her voice is broken, and she can barely make it through two words before she starts gasping for air again.
“It’s okay, I got you. It’s okay,” I assure her, quickly pulling my hoodie off.
“Where’s. Your. Bag?” She rasps as I start tying my jacket around her shoulder.
“I dropped it when you yelled my name.” I can already see red on my jacket as I work on tying it as tight as I can. “That was terrifying you know?” I can still close my eyes and hear her. The desperation in her voice, the pure terror, and then the echo of a gunshot.
“Sorry.” She whispers weakly breaking me from my thoughts.
“It’s okay, but I gotta lift you up, we gotta go.” I glance over to Hunter to see him, shaking or something on the ground.
“What’s wrong with him?” She stutters, taking small, careful steps forward cradling her shoulder as much as she’s able to with me supporting her.
“I don’t know,” I respond grimly, watching as his body jerks and shakes uncontrollably.
“What if this is a trap?”
“Then I’ll fight him off, again,” I reassure her as I move us towards him. If this is a trap it’s a damn good one. We stop a few steps away from him, just out of arm’s reach. He’s stopped shaking now, he’s just sprawled out on the ground kinda like he fell and doesn’t have the energy to stand. Gun a foot or two away from his hand. His eyes are half lidded, barely open enough to see anything, and the red bandana has fallen from his face.
“What was that?” She questions, still out of breath next to me.
“Nothing good. Now’s our chance, let’s go okay?” I mutter, pulling her away as fast as she can manage. Before we can take more than two steps, he starts making an awful choking sound. It’s like a cross between a gurgle and a gasp, like something got stuck in his throat but he can’t get it out. I whip around to stare at him, afraid he’s trying to get up before I notice the yellow foam at the corners of his mouth.
“He’s choking on his own vomit, isn’t he?” She asks from beside me, her voice devoid of emotion. I look at her out of the corner of my eye, she looks numb. To this and everything that’s just happened.
“Yeah, he is.” I mutter, looking at him with disgust and a strange satisfaction. Hunter’s hand shoots out to graze my shoe, and I step back on instinct. His eyes are locked on mine, and I can’t help but stare at him.
“Leave him.” She mutters, now pulling on my hand. “It’s what he deserves.”
“No,” I say firmly, kicking his hand away as I let her pull me forward. “He deserves so much fucking worse.” At that, we walk away. Leaving that monster of a man to die, choking on his own fluids.
“Gah!” I exclaim, falling to my knees, gasping for air.
“So, wanna rest here for a bit?” She questions next to me, sarcastically.
“Ha. Ha.” I mock laugh. “I just need a minute or two to catch my breath.”
“Okay. I can handle that.”
“What’s your name?” I ask, after a short silence between us.
“What does it matter?” She questions defensively.
“Well you know my name, and yet, I don’t know yours. That seems a little one sided to me.” I point out stretching my legs.
“Call me whatever you want to. It’s never bothered me before,” She answers sounding defeated.
“Okay then.” I pause, a bit uncomfortable, “Now it’s your turn for a question.”
“How often do you get one upped by a stranger?” She asks, a smile probably dancing on her lips.
“Never. Now close your eyes.” I demand a devilish smile playing on mine.
“Fine, but you better not hit me or something,” She complains, closing her eyes. Before I can change my mind, I pull my hazmat suits’ hood down and undo my gas mask. The crisp air hitting my face for the first time in awhile, making me shiver. I gently place my mask on the ground, before I hastily pull off her mask.
“Hey what are you-” She protests, before I silence her, pressing my lips into hers. It’s a deep kiss, full of the feelings I can’t admit to myself. I break away and quickly pull my mask back on. Pulling my hood back over my hair, I look up to see her putting her mask on. She has a stunned look on her face.
“As I said,” I gloat, straightening the hood atop my head, “I am never out done by a stranger. Nor anyone I know.”
“Should I take that as an, “I like you too” kiss, or am I missing something?” She questions obviously flustered.
“Come on, we should go back to the bunker so you can rest.” I demand, pulling myself to my feet before extending my hand towards her.
“Oh I see how it is,” She responds, taking my hand, “avoid the subject all together. Very smooth”
“That I am,” I answer pulling her up, she winces hunching in towards her injured shoulder, “That I am.”
“Okay easy there babe. One kiss and you start thinking you’re James Bond or something,” She scolds, putting her arm around my neck.
“What is that supposed to mean?” I ask as we start walking again.
“It means, one smooth move doesn’t mean you aren’t also a dork.” She chides as she pokes my side with her free hand.
“Hey! Hands to yourself thank you very much.” I jokingly order, swatting her hand away. She winces again, and guilt lances through me.
“You started it!” She jokes, dropping her hand. She doesn't even acknowledge what I just did. She doesn't care?
“Let’s just get back to that bunker already.” I sigh, letting my guilt drain away.
“Agreed,” She answers as the conversation falls into yet another agreeable lull. Our footsteps being the only sound puncturing the silence and marking the passing of time.