My sarcasm was well placed, getting around was not fun. In fact just dragging myself forward a few inches made the searing pain in my side flare up. Trying to get up on my own was out of the question, because even if my feet weren’t covered in cuts and gashes I don’t think I would be able to ignore the pain in my side long enough to stand. My only salvation was being somewhat close to what I assume was the kitchen. The overturned table was obscuring this little gem. There are a few cabinets, maybe two, above what I assume was the sink all of which are out of my reach. Lucky for me there are three cabinets making up the bottom half of the counters. The cabinets look worn, but thankfully all three of them are closed, giving me hope that there’s at least something still inside. The struggle was making my way over to them. By the time I actually got close enough the sun had gone down and most of my energy was spent. I could’ve cried when I opened that first cabinet. Waiting inside was a full bottle of water, and a bag of chips. Looking back at it now I should’ve been more careful with the water, but at the time I’m pretty sure I was dehydrated. I downed half the bottle before I remembered the chips and ripped into those. The chips were gone in record time, and I don’t remember breathing while I was stuffing my face. I would have started eating the bag next if I thought I wouldn’t choke on it. With something in my stomach, and a little water in my system, my eyelids must have gotten the better of me, because the next thing I remember was waking up with the harsh sun streaming through the gaping hole in the wall.
I don’t know when it happened, but I’m laying down on the hard concrete with the half full bottle of water sitting obnoxiously close to my eyes. It takes a few minutes of lying on the ground for me to remember the events of last night, and when I do, I can’t help but feel ashamed at my stupidity.
“Fuck.” I whisper, as I slowly bring myself to a sitting position. I should’ve been more careful with, possibly, the only food in this place. I could be eating it right now if I had the self control to stop.
“If I can’t control myself, how can I hope to survive in this world now.” I grab the empty bag of chips, inspecting them for any missed crumb, or hopefully a chip. “I’m only still here because my dad had the foresight to build a bunker, and I was smart enough to go home.” I fume, throwing the empty bag of chips. The bag flies through the air only to flip back on itself and return closer to me than before.
“Stupid non-aerodynamic bag,” I sigh.
The rest of the day goes the same as the last. I slowly and painfully make my way to the next cabinet only to find it empty. By the time I reach the last cabinet the sun has long gone down in the sky and the temperature has started to drop. I must have missed that yesterday, being too busy shoving food into my face to notice. I open the last door expecting it to be empty like the last. Thankfully, I am wrong. In that wonderful little cabinet sits a can of peaches, maybe, or something. The faded yellow label has been ripped off but a bit of the lettering remains. My happiness is short lived, however, when I realize there is no can opener, nor anything sharp I can use to open the can with.
“Well... this is just great. Now what am I going to eat?” I don’t have an answer, nor do I expect one. With nothing else to do my exhaustion catches up with me, turning my arms and legs to lead. I catch my head lolling to the side and make the executive decision that sleep would be in my best interest. The pain in my side has turned into more of a dull, constant, aching rather than a sort of piercing stab. I guess two days of dragging yourself around on the floor really raises your pain tolerance. Maybe I’m just too exhausted to care. One of the two. After laying down it only takes a few minutes to find a somewhat comfortable position to sleep in, and in a few more, the world fades to black around me.
It’s warm... but somehow it’s more than that. I’m back at home sitting with my mom on our love-seat making fun of TV shows like we used to. The room feels familiar, but something is different. Everything is…..brighter than it should be. In one instant everything is how it should be, my mother and I laughing like we always do just enjoying being together. At the drop of a hat it all changes. The walls burst into flames around me and my mother is no longer beside me. The pictures that cover the walls are burning, the corners catching fire, and the rest of the picture following soon after. The walls are falling around me, flaming boards coming dangerously close to burning the skin on my face. I manage to take a step back through all the chaos, and the instant I do, everything changes again. I’m in front of the house this time... or should I say what’s left of the house. Everything is burned. Nothing is even vaguely recognizable. There are only still smoldering boards haphazardly clumped in heaps littering the ground. I fall to my knees, unable to process what is happening. When my knees make contact with the ground, the world shifts again, and this time I’m close to the rubble... almost in it. Her hand is sticking out from beneath the burning boards reaching towards me as though I could have done something to save her. Suddenly her hand is wrapped around my wrist with an ironclad grip.
“Why didn’t you help me?” Her voice echoes in my ears.
“I didn’t know. There was nothing I could do,” I cry at the space in front of me. Her grip tightens on my wrist as maggots begin to crawl from her hand to mine. I desperately try to pry my hand from her grip as the maggots continue their crawl up my arm. Their little movements begging every fiber in my being to shake them off and stand under a hot shower for at least an hour.
“Why didn’t you come and look for us?” My mother’s raspy voice accuses. The maggots are everywhere, multiplying many times over to cover every inch of my lower body. I flail my legs, throwing what seems like hundreds of maggots to the ground, only for more to take their place.
“I’m sorry! Just let me go!” I yell at the distorted voice of my mother. There’s no reply. Not that there would be, as the maggots make their way up my body. The feeling in my hand is gone, a thankful blessing in this hell. In a moment the maggots have reached my chin and their destination is clear.
“LET GO OF ME!” I screech, pulling away from my mother with every ounce of my strength.
My back crashes into the cabinets sending a jolt of pain throughout my body, thankfully waking me from my nightmare. My breath comes in panicked wheezes, as my tired mind struggles to catch up. I wrap my arms around my middle in a weak attempt to calm my breathing, but I only succeed in aggravating my side.
“It’s just a dream. It’s not real,” I chant between shaky breaths. Suddenly, Mia’s there standing in the doorway looking down at me. That only makes it worse, knowing that someone is watching you, judging you for something you can’t control. My chest tightens and soon I’m unsure if I’m even bringing in air at all.
“Look at me,” Mia orders, suddenly kneeling by my head. But I can’t. Every muscle I have is tensed in fear, unwilling, or maybe unable to relax. My barely awakened mind can’t determine the difference between what is real and what is not. She grabs my chin and easily moves my head until I meet her eyes. Even through the gas mask her eyes are clear.
“Breathe.” With a simple command my body tries to respond. My breath now comes in short gasps and gulps making me cough every few breaths.
“You’re alright, no one can hurt you now okay?” Her words are comforting, not condescending like I thought they would be. She says them with a certain softness in her voice that screams sincerity. We stay as we are for a while. Mia with her comforting hand on my shoulder, and me curled around myself struggling to breath. The sun has long since risen by the time I’m able to move again.
“Why?” I mumble, pushing myself into an upright position. I wince as my muscles stretch uncomfortably. She sucks in a sharp breath before bringing her hand up to massage the back of her neck obviously embarrassed. She sits for what feels like forever rubbing smooth, meticulous lines over her slender neck. Just when I think she’s not going to give me an answer, she gets up and walks towards the door.
“Look, I don’t need a reason and I’m sure as hell not going to give you some sappy story about me having nightmares every night.” She pauses only to search her bag and pull out a dark grey-green object before starting back. “That said, it doesn’t mean I’m some heartless person that’s going to leave someone hyperventilating on the floor.” Mia slides down next to me, her knees brushing against my legs, before resting her arms on her knees.
“So woman up and find something that works for you. Find a way to need no one but yourself.” I don’t know what’s she’s been through to think like that, but I can help but think that she is only trying to help. I look over at Mia, taking in the defeated way her shoulders hunch inwards, and the slight trembling in her hands. I notice the way she’s running her fingers over whatever is in her hands and the way she’s breathing just a little bit faster than normal.
“Okay. I think I can do that,” I state firmly, placing my hand on Mia’s. She startles at the contact but doesn’t move out of my reach. I sigh putting my hellish nightmare behind me for now.
“So now that that is out of the way, what in God’s name do you have in your hands,” I joke, bumping shoulders with Mia.
“Oh yeah.” She laughs, unfolding some material to reveal straps upon straps connected to what appears to be a gas mask. ” I can hardly believe it, but I found you a gas mask.”
“You have got to be kidding me.” I laugh, ” Well let me see it.” I reach for the mask and excitedly take it in my hands. It feels like an old leather jacket, and looks like it’s from World War II. The glass covering the eyes moves a bit when I run my fingers over it, but as long as it works I couldn’t be happier.
“Take it why don’t you, didn’t even wait for me to say yes.” Mia complains her tone light.
“You can’t judge me, I mean what are the chances of you actually finding a gas mask?” I shake my head in disbelief a smile plastered on my face.
“Now I don’t want you to get mad, but I may have stolen your hazmat suit.” My smile drops a bit at Mia’s statement.
“And why did you take my hazmat suit?” I ask even though I already know her answer.
“I walked into what I assumed was an abandoned bunker, and saw what can now only be described as the jackpot. Do you even know how rare it is to find a hazmat suit that comes with shoes and gloves attached to the suit itself, let alone one that isn’t completely trashed?”
“I mean, I can see where you’re coming from but it still hurts a bit.”
“Well now you’re just being sentimental about it,” Mia gripes unclasping her bag and reaching deep, almost to the bottom, of her bag.
“How much stuff do you even have in there?” I laugh as she manages to get her whole arm into the bag.
“Too much, I really need to get you a bag.” Mia concedes pulling my hazmat suit free from her bag. “Anyway, put this on yeah?”
“Okay Miss Bossy,” I joke taking the suit from Mia’s outstretched hand.
“That’s Captain Bossy to you, Miss Mystery.” Mia clarifies placing her hands on her hips.
“What authority do you have to be called captain?” I complain, unfolding my suit haphazardly.
“The authority of I saved your life, now get dressed.”
“Aye aye Captain Bossy.” I salute from my place on the floor.