Waking Other Lives

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Chapter 9: Settling In

The girl whose name I didn’t even know was scared. It was obvious in the way she routinely looked back, in the way she kept her finger constantly on the trigger, in the way she narrowed her eyes as if that would give her supersonic vision to detect the Drakons, in the way she held my elbow, which was way too firm, and lastly, in the way her ice cold touch seeped through beneath the fingerless gloves on her hand, rebellious against the warmth of the rising morning sun.

“We are almost there,” she said, repeating Pietro’s words. I didn’t see a thing. I tried to follow, despite the pain in my ankle which was now swollen to almost double its normal size. I needed an ice pack, and somehow fetching that seemed unlikely in this place.

We finally came to a clearing, as though we were two college kids who were done with the trail on a hiking trip. But, there was nothing resembling a bunch of hikers in the sight that greeted us. There were at least five trucks parked with a multitude of people packed inside each one, but what horrified me was the commando looking guys, with faces camouflaged in moss like paint, carrying handguns, and knives strapped to their dark colored garments. I would have been scared shitless had I seen any one of them back at home on a street in Chicago.

“Sierra, for God’s sake girl, have you lost it? Where were you?” said the guy, wearing an ugly eye patch. He was bare chested and there were ugly scars across his torso, to which I tried not to react negatively. He scared me, his cold green-gray eyes were merciless, his stare distant, hollowed like empty shells. I swallowed the lump rising in my throat, I was a complete stranger among these people who claimed to know me, and somehow that was no comfort.

“She’s hurt Dietrich, I found her hiding beneath the tree, she couldn’t walk,” the girl said.

“You are lucky we waited, you would both be dead had we decided to leave you here,” Dietrich said, his domineering tone putting me off immediately.

“It wasn’t as if you had a fucking choice,” smirked the guy standing next to him.

“What did you just say?” Dietrich said, seizing him aggressively by his collar.

“Nothing, just saying. He would have had your neck on a platter,” he smiled, unfazed by the other’s violent outburst.

Dietrich clutched and fisted the guy’s collar threateningly, squeezing his neck for a few seconds, before finally letting go. I looked in horror, knowing full well that the gurgling sounds the other guy made a few seconds ago would be carved in my memory for a long time.

“We’ve wasted enough time, let’s get going before the Drakons come back for our hides,” Dietrich said. “Mina, and Sierra, you are coming with me,” he ordered as he hopped in the last truck’s driver’s seat.

Thankfully, now I knew her name. I leaned on Mina, who helped me get in the truck. I tried to stretch my leg forward as far as I could in the front seat as I sat next to an unfriendly Dietrich. The air felt chilled in the vehicle, and an awkward silence ensued between the three of us. I tried not to move much, the raw pain of my ankle taking away all my other troubles, such as where they were taking me, and what would happen to me once I got there.

I cried out a few times, when Dietrich bounced the vehicle up and down, hitting a bump here and there in the road. We continued jostling along the road, the truck often swerving to avoid sinking into suddenly appearing potholes, which were almost large enough to be gouged into the earth by a meteor crash.

Things deteriorated further, as the road soon completely disappeared leaving in its place a steep and rugged terrain, and unworn paths strewn with fallen rotten trees and large rocks. The scenes that we passed in a blur was scary. This world looked desolate with nothing but scorched land, with a few trees scattered in between as if to create the illusion of normalcy.

There were absolutely no houses, no buildings, and no people around. The waves of white clouds floating over our heads like sailing vessels in the vast blue sky had not washed over the dark gloomy colors of the land. It was almost as if an invisible mist of darkness penetrated the air, precluding the rays of the sun, and sharply dividing the sky from the barely surviving earth. We finally stopped, Mina and I tumbled out of the truck to face a grey ugly looking building, barely holding on its own. All the vehicles had stopped, people cramped inside now heading straight to the building. I saw a few injured, being carried inside with the help of others.

Mina took me by the elbow as we walked slowly towards the building.

“How many dead do we have?” asked Mina to another girl who looked about our age.

“Probably a lot,” said the girl. “At least twenty of us are reported missing.”

“Crap, he won’t like that.”

“Nope,” the girl said.

“Let’s get you help, Sierra,” said Mina.

That definitely sounded good to my ears. “Uhm, how do we know each other?” I asked Mina.

She laughed. “I’m your best friend, silly,” she said, not taking me seriously.

“Right,” I muttered. I needed information, and I needed it fast. I wondered how I could get it from her without appearing crazy.

The interior of the building, which looked like a warehouse, was as unappealing as it was at the outside. The paint was peeling off from the walls, there were dirty mats thrown all over the floor, and a few tables with broken legs held some dirty utensils and scraps of food. A dank sour smell permeated the air and I pinched my nostrils, but I had to let it go when I noticed that whatever was rotting here, was here to stay.

People inside were not all fighters however, there were old people sitting on the dirty floor while kids scurried around, chasing each other with bare feet. The world outside had failed to deprive them of their laughter which now echoed off the gloomy walls, providing a glimmer of hope for the future despite the ugliness and death, and all the other burdens the war had gifted them with.

Mina took me to a room, inside was some random medicine, all piled up atop one another in small cabinets lined along the wall. “We should be able to find something to help you with your ankle,” she said as she began rummaging in the cabinet. She took out a few painkillers, an ointment, and some bandages. I sat down on the floor, disgusted by the dirt, dust, and grime ingrained on its surface. Mina suffered from no such repugnance as she easily placed her butt next to me, and started rubbing the ointment on my ankle before she helped me bandage it. The cool ointment felt good on my skin and I sighed deeply, savoring small blessings in this place, things I was oblivious to in my previous privileged life.

“C’mon let’s go, he’ll be looking for you, we don’t want him worried,” she said.

“Who?”

“Who?” she said, breaking into a shrill leader. “Our leader, that’s who, the one whom everybody, even Dietrich, fears the most.”

“Why would he be looking for me?” I asked, not really liking the fact that he was seeking me out.

“Sierra girl, I’m beginning to think you must have had a concussion when you fell,” she murmured as she helped lift me up. I hooked my arm around her shoulders and hopped to where she was taking me. The room was crowded with the ones who’d returned from the fight. Dietrich stood in their midst, looking bored as he cracked his knuckles. People opened a path as they saw us enter.

“She is here,” Mina announced.

“Finally, I was about to come and get you,” a voice said. “Baby, are you okay?” he asked, as he lifted me in his arms and kissed me loudly in front of everyone.

I was so stupefied, I couldn’t move, I couldn’t react, I couldn’t even curse, push him away or attack him. Out of all the things I should have done, I just stared at him, as if he was not the one who betrayed me, as if he was not the one who killed me, as if he was not the one who ruined my life. The shock of seeing him had momentarily paralyzed me.

Their leader was no other than Baran.

And, apparently he was under the misapprehension that I was still his girlfriend.

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