City of Lost Hope
There used to be hope. Now there is nothing. Even in the aftermath of the incident, people still managed to hold onto a bit of hope, somehow, I don’t understand it myself. But there is only so long you can hold onto hope it a place like this, and eventually that all disappeared too. Along with everything else. There wasn’t much of anything left, just shells – shells of buildings, of vehicles, of people. A place like this wears you down ’til there’s nothing left.
Just last week I lost my best friend. My sidekick. We’d managed to survive all this time – how long it’s been, I don’t remember. Two years? Five? Whatever it’s been, it must be awhile. Before this started, I didn’t have any grey hair. Now I was more grey than not. Time isn’t important anymore. The only thing that matters is that you wake up to see another day. Sometimes I’m not even sure that matters anymore. I peer out between the slats of the boarded up window from our hovel on the 5th floor of one of the only buildings that are still mostly standing. It’s just my hovel now, I guess. It seems like the sun is reluctant even to show itself. I don’t blame it. If you hide in the shadows, you stay safe, stay alive. In the distance I hear the shrill piercing blare of a warning horn over a loud speaker. One of the few that are still functioning. Thankfully. It’s our only remaining warning system.
I hear a chime and look down at the display on the screen that’s wrapped around my wrist. It’s cracked now, but still works. I look at the words that appear on the screen, and for a moment I think it’s Randy, but then I remember about last week. I shake my head and squeeze my eyes shut to forget. Instead I see the whole scene behind my eyelids, as if I’m seeing it for the first time, on replay in slow motion. Blood splatters across me, across my back, and hits my hair, soaking in. I can feel it seeping into my clothes, but I don’t look back, even though his screams pierce me like a giant hot knife through my heart. Even though I know, if I was a good person, I would turn back and try to save him. But I also know that as soon as they catch you, you’re beyond saving. And they’ll put him out of his misery soon enough. If I’d stayed, tried to help him, it would have just made things worse. My shirt was damp – with sweat or blood, or both I couldn’t tell. I just ran. Ran blindly at first, throwing one or two of the items that I’d scored from that section of the city back behind me, to distract them. If they were people chasing after me, it would be the equivalent to putting large pieces of furniture in their way – it would slow them down slightly. Not much, only once they figured out it wasn’t alive. They weren’t that stupid. That’s why I usually grabbed meat along with other confiscated things. Meat confuses them for a moment, until they realize it doesn’t have a beating heart and pumping blood.
Tears began to well and force themselves out of the corners of my eyes. I scrub my arm across my face wiping them away, and stare bleary eyed at the screen. The message scrawls across it. Three words in capital letters that chill my blood and for a moment I think my heart has stopped. THEY HAVE ARRIVED. I know who it’s from without waiting for the name at the end – one of the four guard towers, positioned at each corner of our last little bastion of safety – the one corner of the city that had not yet fallen to them.
But now our little safety zone had been breached. I was alone. Yes, there were a few people hunkered down in the same abandoned building as I was, with the weeds and vines growing up through the concrete, and the broken floorboards, but I was still alone. Alone without Randy, but with the somewhat comforting feeling of my rifle that I’d made a sling for across my back, like some kind of ancient Samurai.
The siren blare seeped back into my consciousness. It was going on longer than normal. I wondered where the breach was. A beep on my arm answered that question – it would be the same information everyone else with a communicator would be receiving. It was next to the large Supermarket down near Main and 37th Avenue. The supermarket was just outside the perimeter. But it wasn’t really a supermarket anymore. Hadn’t been in a long time.
Instead of stopping this time, my heart began to beat fast – faster and harder than if I was sprinting a marathon. The Supermarket – was now the ‘uperma et’ as the front of the store read. The other letters had fallen off, or even used as weapons. I could see as if it was yesterday a small old lady brandishing the giant S and swiping it back and forth in an arc across her, fending off the moving bags of skin and bone. But the S wasn’t enough to protect her in the end.
Shit. Shit, shit, shit. It was just a few blocks away from me. Meaning they were just a few blocks away from me. I peered down the street, trying to see if I could see anything. Nothing. Yet. I dropped the slat again, closing off my view of the dead city around me. A dead city figuratively and literally. A city of lost hope. I secured my gun in its improvised holster across my back and went to the window across the room, the one with the fire escape.
I stepped onto the rusted metal platform of the fire escape and placed a booted foot on the first rung. It squeaked noisily, protesting my weight with its age. It shook slightly. Or maybe it was me that was shaking.
I climbed down the ladder as quickly as I could, and dropped to the ground, hanging onto the last rung for a moment before letting go and falling. I’d done this a million times before. A million times when it didn’t really matter. Trust me to land on my ankle wrong on the one time it really matters. I muffled my scream, and pushed myself up. I heard a noise, a low susurrus like dried leaves blowing across cement. I froze. Even without looking I knew what that noise was. It wasn’t dried leaves – there were no more trees in the city. Or anywhere for thousands of miles. It was shuffling. The slow and steady movement of thousands of bodies. Thousands of bodies with dry, papery skin. Like mummies. I didn’t turn to look.
I removed my rifle, and stuck the butt of it under my arm, like a crutch, and I began to run in the opposite direction – fully aware I was a lame duck right in front of a pack of wolves. But what else could I do? I had to at least try. Maybe there was some hope left after all. I ran.