2136 — A Post Apocalyptic Novel

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When you die, do you feel it?

I felt the pounding in my chest before I saw his face. My ribs felt like someone had poured gasoline into my lungs and lit the match. My entire chest screamed in agony with every push of his palms.

My first breath came as a gasp and then an uncontrollable whopping cough. He turned my body over on its side and patted my back.

“Get it all out,” I heard him encouraging. He continued to tap the groove between my shoulder blades with his hand until I stopped gagging up black water.

My eyes finally opened and I saw the terror and relief on his face. I remember thinking,if he keeps this up, he’s going to age fifty years before the year is up.Never mind that I didn’t remember anything past falling down the hole, or spitting out some mysterious dark liquid that I had no recollection of ever swallowing. Never mind my just dying. No, obviously there were more important matters to think about, like Roxx’s unnatural aging. What would that make me? Some twisted nihilist or vanity induced narcissist that cares more about others than herself?

What a strange paradox. Who would have thought falling down a black shoot and dying would turn me into an existentialist. I didn’t know whether I was insane or just hyper sensitive to the features of men these days. Either way, I’m sure it’s not a good thing.

That’s it. I’m an oxymoron. A tadpole stuck in the footprint of man, unable to move, trapped in my own solitary with only one savior to rescue me: the man who imprinted my new home.

I rolled over and saw Roxx staring at me with those dark eyes I grew fond of long ago. He was so handsome despite his age. His features were still strong, and his figure chiseled from the constant pounding, ripping, and forging of metal as a Metallic.The secret to staying fit and skinny: work in a furnace and pound metal objects all day with a hammer and tongs. That was it. I just solved the the epidemic that had stifled the entire world in the 21st century!Unfortunately, I was a century too late. The cracked ozone solved it for us. Now we were all walking skeletons.

I saw Roxx’s hand on my arm even though I couldn’t feel it at first.

“You aren’t looking too good,” I said.

His one dimple peeked its head through the week’s worth of hair on his face as he allowed himself a half smile.

“I think I could say the same for you,” he smirked. “How are you feeling?”

His eyes darted along my body; lingered on my leg, then back to my eyes.

“What happened?” I said. “I remember the cord starting to snap and falling.” At least I thought I had fell.

The feeling was gradually coming back to my limbs. I felt him give me a firm squeeze just above the elbow.

“The wire is fine,” he said.

But how? I distinctly remembered feeling a jolt on my body as if I was being yanked down into the chasm.

He must have sensed my confusion.

“The cord didn’t snap, but the remnants of the building must have shifted over the years and the exposure to the heat caused the metal to stretch. The cord had too much slack and you fell a hundred feet without any support.” It sounded robotic the way he said it.You fell a hundred feet without any support. Oh, is that all? Well, thank you for the clarity.

He brushed a strand of my auburn hair to the side allowing both my eyes to have full vision.

“Luckily, your ankle got caught in the excess and when the cord had finally ran out of its extra slack, it yanked your body along with it.”

You gotta love Roxx. Always the optimist even to a fault. I swear if his mother were still around she’d have given him a good whacking across the back of the head. Luckily? Who was he kidding!

My head felt like two freight trains from a hundred and twenty years ago had played patty-cake with my skull. My vision was blurry at best. All I could really make out for the time-being were shapes and hues.Or was it just that dark down here?I could only imagine what my balance would be like if my vision was this skewed.

His eyes had a glaze about them as if he was going to cry.

“It saved your life,” he said.

My arm was fully functional now and I could feel everything.Trust me, not a good thing.All I could feel was the pressure in the side of my head, and the vibrant heat ensuing up my thigh. I couldn’t even feel my foot past that. I tried to sit up but felt a surge of pain shoot down my leg. Yup, I wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon without help.

“Don’t move,” he said. “Your ankle could be broken.”

Oh? Is that why my foot feels dead? Thanks for the free diagnosis, Doc.

He helped me to a sitting position and I leaned my full weight against the wall. The cold stone felt good against my cheek. Through the dim light filtering from the propane lantern he had lit,I assume he had, otherwise we weren’t the only ones down here, I saw that we were in some kind of a tunnel system.

“What is this place?” I asked. I grimaced as needles shot through my temple. My vision instantly worsened.

He turned and peered down the corridor leading into more darkness.

“It’s an old friend,” he said, and left it at that.

Good. An old friend. A dark, menacing, cold, damp friend who had tried to kill me. Glad to see you have some good friends.

I’m not sure what has gotten into me. I’m not normally this pessimistic. I must have really dislodged something in my brain when I hit the wall. Yeah, that was it. It’s the wall’s fault. Glad we worked that out, now let’s move on.

The sharp pain descended into a throbbing sensation along both my eyes. Closing them didn’t help so I kept them open. I shifted my weight and went to place my right hand to my side for support but nothing was there to catch me. It started to vanish beneath a pool of dark something. Oil, water, I couldn’t tell.I would have toppled over had Roxx not grabbed me first.

Something could have smacked me with a metal pipe and it would have felt better than what my head and neck felt like when he jerked my arm.

The yelp came out on its own. My arm had gone into the liquid all the way up to my shoulder and it now dripped profusely. As I managed to balance myself against the adjacent wall, I brushed the tangled rat’s nest that had clotted in front of my face to the side. It was then, for the first time sincewaking up,that I noticed just how remarkably drenched I was. My eyes made their assessment of the rest of my body and soon found, so was the rest of me.What in the world had happened when I fell? Where were we? Why was I soaked in God knows what nasty muck!

As I tried to unravel the mystery, replaying the memories I could recall, it dawned on me that the details were inconsequential. All that truly mattered was that I was alive. I was one of a few still living grounders who could actually say they took their first breath on this planet,twice. The pain in my ribcage and sternum were testament to that as Roxx had feverishly pumped me back to life.

I looked at him, but he was turned away from me.

“You saved me,” I voiced as if sighing it.

“What’s wrong?” Roxx asked. He hadn’t heard me. Maybe it was all just in my head. It felt like everything was loose.

He was still kneeling near me but his attention had drifted off to something else.

“Where did I land when I fell?” I asked him.

He looked at me puzzled.Yup, something else was on his mind. Such a short attention span. What would the men do without us women around to constantly remind them of things?

“When I fell, where did you find me? Was I hanging from the cable or what?”

“Your ankle was tangled. I had to unravel you from the metal cord.”

“That’s it?” I asked questioningly. “Nothing else?”

I saw it again for the second time.Fear.

“Your foot was trapped in the cable, but the rest of your body had submerged completely under that,” he pointed to the pool of water.

“I had to untangle your foot first before I could pull you out of the water. It took me longer than I expected. By the time I managed to unhook you and pull you out of the pool, you were unconscious and not breathing.” His voiced cracked a bit and I saw his jaw muscles clench. His hand instinctively went to cover his mouth.

I placed my hand on his.

“Thank you,” I said, and managed a genuine smile of thanks, bringing a wave of new pain to my face. He nodded, and did something even more unnatural and unexpected, he continued to speak.

“I suspected you hit your head on the way down and were unconscious before you entered the water. I believe that saved your life. You weren’t breathing when I pulled you out so I started CPR on you.” Again his voice cracked.

“I thought I had lost you,” he said, and this time his voice broke completely and his chin started quivering. He reached out to me suddenly and took me in his arms. He squeezed me tight. I could feel his labored breathing as the emotions threatened to overtake his normally stoic and calm demeanor.

“I promised your parents I would look after you. And I almost—”

I cut him off.

“But you didn’t. I’m right here. I’m not going anywhere.”

He wiped the stray tear that had been forming on his eye and stood. He brushed his pants, took a deep breath and exhaled, then held out his hand to me.Just like that. Back to business. God I love this man!

I took it and he helped me up. The moment I was vertical, the world started spinning. I instantly tumbled into his arms.

“I don’t know if I’ll be able to walk on my own,” I said. “I must have hit my head pretty hard.”

I felt the back of my head and sure enough, there was a large knot already forming.

“We’ll take it slow, then,” he said, and wrapped my arm around his neck.

The going was slow, and so painful that I began to wish I had stayed dead.

I felt like we were walking through this foreign dark tunnel for a lifetime. Every step sent waves of pain up my thigh and through my head. There were several times I made him stop so I could catch my breath. I know what you must be thinking right now.What a wimp!

You’re right, I’m a wimp. Probably the biggest weakling on the planet. And let me tell you, there’s no room for the weak in this world. You’ll be chewed up in a heartbeat! But maybe you’d change your mind if you were to know why. I wonder how well you’d fare with part of your fibula protruding from the skin. But you didn’t discover the cause of the unrelenting pain until you had walked no less than a mile through this underground tunnel.

Not so judgmental now, are you? I didn’t think so. That’s ok. We all have our moments. We’re all in this together. Forgiveness is a necessity, not a commodity in my world. You’ll soon see that.

After two hours, we finally made it to our destination. Roxx sat me down in the dark and disappeared. I must have fallen asleep because I don’t remember seeing the lights come on, nor my clothes being replaced.

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