The long walk home
I wake up to the feel of rain piercing through my flesh. Roman still has his arms wrapped around me but he must have fallen asleep hours ago. Falling asleep in each other’s arms, how sickeningly punctilious. My injury feels like a dull ache but the ache in my head is preoccupying most of my attention. Ow, my head. I also get the mother of all headaches after I cry; it wouldn’t surprise me if I get a migraine. Fantastic. Incapacitated and blind to the world.
My mind is set. I know what I have to do. I have to find John and, although it may be painful and slow, I can move. Now is my perfect opportunity. It’s pitch black. Roman is snoring away like a baby warthog. The lights are all out inside the house. It’s now or never. If I don’t go now, they won’t let me. I just have to hope that I don’t wake Roman when I wiggle my way out of his grip.
I can’t help feeling nervous; wouldn’t Roman come with me if I woke him up? Would he shop me into the others? I can find him, I know I can. I move slowly, trying to use as little energy or force as is possible. It’s like attempting to a limbo. Once I have escaped his grip, I land on the grass with a little thump. That was loud, loud enough to wake him up. He will have felt that.
I can’t get up. My legs are so stiff due to the lack of blood circulation. I’m not sure I can actually get up; my plan was stupid. My plan relied on me being in anyway mobile. I can’t believe I could be so moronic. Uh! I might be able to crawl. If I can crawl, that might get the blood flowing back into my legs. I have had two weeks of not using them; obviously, there’s going to be an issue with using them when I desire. Damn it.
I look up to see if Roman is still asleep. Yes. Then again, that man could sleep through a hurricane so take from that what you will. He is no longer what I have to worry about. I crawl forward a few metres. Downside, everything is killing me; upside the blood’s flow in my legs seems to be coming back. I place my arms on the wheelchair. The smell of vomit and piss hits me instantly. Piss is the new flavour, ew. I could gag. I could gag. I just have to push myself up. I have good abdominal strength; I could pull myself up easily, usually. However, these are not the usual circumstances. I just have to focus all of my energy and strength into my arms.
Ha. I’m doing it. My legs are threatening to buckle but I’m determined. I’m doing it. I’ve done it. I’m standing. Whether I can move is another thing entirely. One step could cause me to topple which is the worst thing possible. I just need to hold onto the chair. I put one foot in front of the other. I stamp my foot; the grass masks the sounds but Roman still fidgets. He fidgets and crosses his arms, moving to sleep on his right side. He drags his legs up to his chest. He’s in too deep in sleep to notice my absence; this is a good thing for me. This is okay.
My feet still feel numb. So numb, they don’t feel like they’re there. They don’t feel like their belong to me. Walking. It should be just like riding a bike. I can’t feel where my feet are which makes me feel like I am about to fall any second. I just have to leg it. Run and if I fall, I fall. I have to try. I run. I’m running like Bambi on ice; my legs feel like they are flailing which is a bloody weird sensation but I’m moving. I just have to open the back gate and I’m on the home stretch. I twist and pull the lock. The lock is rusted and archaic; it’s a bit tough but I can still pull it free. It’s like a natural child lock. I push the gate; now, I have time to find him.
It feels as if I have killer stomach cramps. Maybe I do. What a perfect time to start. Or that might be the intestines shouting out. I’m still not healed and there may be an infection. Rita’s put me on some form of antibiotics but it isn’t possible to know if they will work. Antibiotic resistance is a bitch. I have this one opportunity. They will probably shit a brick when they find me gone; I’ve already terrified Roman with my near death experience. Ever since I woke up, he’s always been there watching over me. I don’t really want to do this to them again but...I have to find John. I feel a sense of loyalty and duty to him. He’s always found me when I was lost.
The alleyway is pitch black. A few years ago, the street lamps were still functional; there was something more confrontational because you could see shadows in every direction. The light seemed to illuminate everything, I guess that’s why I prefer the darkness. Ignorance is bliss after all.
I walk slowly.
Every inch of my body feels like it’s been bruised. I have to limp to walk; why? I have no idea whatsoever. I have a goal now; I have to focus on that now. It is so quiet. It’s always peaceful but this is eerie. This is what it would be like to be the last human being standing; my footsteps and birdsong. The only sounds left. And the rain. Can’t forget the rain. The sound of rain. The haunting combination of bird song and rain.
I’ve sometimes wondered who would survive, who would be the last human on Earth. There’s no way to know how many people are still out there. There could be thousands out there, unaffected by the contagion. African nations where energy was not a problem. Places in the Himalayas or other mountainous regions where the air is clear. I believe there are still whole countries that weren’t infected, where millions of people are still thriving. I know there are others out there, I mean, there have to be.
I’ve always wanted to travel and see if there is hope. I was planning to go on an ‘excursion’ when Roman turned up. I was going to finally do it. Something always got in the way but I have a plan now.
I find John, make sure he’s okay. Then I collect a sufficient amount of supplies and I get some form of transportation, like a bicycle. Then, I hit the road. I know it would take weeks to get to Scotland or Wales but it will be worth it. They are my best bet. Travelling anywhere else would require water transport. Preferably a boat and without petrol, I would be looking at a little sail boat which would be totally useless.
Maybe I would take someone with me. I guess I have to. I would have to take Roman with me. I guess the real question is: do I want to? I mean, I do feel more than just friendly affection for him but I’ve always felt that this was my mission. My end game. This was my formulation and would he ever want to leave the camp, where he has a purpose and where he belongs? This always felt like I had to do this alone.
Anyway, I have to focus on this. I have had that plan formulating in my head for years. I’ve spent month upon month thinking about my plan of action. I still have time. Time to focus on that once I know that John is in good health.
I need to think. I mean I’ve just gone AWOL, I have to be totally sure that what I’m doing will yield results. I have to be sure that I will find John. There has to be a place he would go; it’s been over two weeks so he can’t be too exposed meaning he must have found some form of safe house.
Come on Elektra, think. Think. He must have mentioned something to me. There must be somewhere. Somewhere he mentioned that he would go. Come on, come on.
I’ve got it.
I know where he’s gone..
The others would never have thought of it; why would they?
Where would anyone go when they’re lost or frightened?
Home; he’s gone home.
John took me there a few years ago. It had been pillaged and there had been a death there but it was his home before everything. He’d gone there to find some form of solace. I still don’t know why he took me, he should have taken Isla. But, he took me. He must have felt like I may need to know it one day. How right he was, if that was his thought process at the time.
There were still pictures there. The only thing of his that was still there. That the thing about scavengers, they don’t tend to still family photographs. Even they aren’t so callous. I remember looking at this one photo, it must have been a wedding photo. I’ll admit it, he was handsome. He had these blonde curls and was cleanly shaven. It was strange seeing him like that, all dressed up in a tuxedo with a grin plastered onto his face, but the eyes lead to the ease of identification. His grey eyes. Staring into the soul, showing an understanding beyond words. He has his arm around his bride. She looked radiant with her auburn hair flowing in the breeze. Her chocolate brown eyes were gazing into his grey eyes. Such different eyes expressing one sentiment. Love. She was quite pretty but I would put that down to the excessive makeup. Her nose seemed to be crooked and beaklike but her eyes were...cute. Wide and alert like a baby barn owl. They made an attractive couple; I don’t understand why their relationship didn’t work but then again, pictures can be deceptive. It is easy to stage a picture but real life, not so much. But at that moment, love seemed to radiate from them, through the image.
John just sat staring at this one picture. Just one. I peered over his shoulder trying to get just a glimpse of it and that I did. The image was unclear. It was black and white making me think it was an older picture but it couldn’t be. The date at the bottom said: ’17th February, 2003′ and it said ‘16 weeks’ in a white marker pen. It’s not exactly recent but there still had coloured images because the wedding photo had the date of the ’25th December, 1996′. John would have been twenty-one years old. That’s strange. He got married at twenty-one and his wife was twenty; why the rush in commitment? I understand why people get married early these days but I don’t get why they were married so young.
The image was hard to decipher. It didn’t seem human. I could see an oval attached to a curved line. What the hell was it? I had never seen anything like it and it didn’t seem like the image had been taken by a camera.
He spoke with tears in his eyes.
“That was my little girl. Anna. Anna Jennifer Saunders.”
“I never knew you had a daughter. What is that? That photo?”
“It’s an ultrasound image. It was a way to monitor foetuses, made pregnancies more real because you could see it. I don’t have a daughter.”
“But you just said...”
“She was never born. Well, not really but I guess she was. She was stillborn. My wife miscarried when she was seven months pregnant. She hadn’t felt her move in a few days and she was worried. I should have put more credence into what she said. I took her to the doctor and she said...she said that Anna was dead. The cord,” he cleared his throat “must have wrapped around her throat. She was too far gone to have an abortion so she had to give birth to her. There is nothing worse than going through all that pain to hold a cold dead child in your arms. We buried her a week after she was born. She would be twenty-six. Today would have been her twenty-sixth birthday. I always come here on her birthday.”
“I am sorry for your loss but why did you bring me here? I don’t understand; this is personal for you. Why bring me here?”
“Because, Elektra you are the closest thing I have had to a daughter since Anna. The other girls that have come and gone have never been like daughters. One day, you may need to know this place. I want you to know that this a safe haven, if you ever got lost or into trouble come here. I’ll be waiting, okay?”
“You think of me as a daughter? I think of you as a...a...father figure. Only one I can remember. Okay.”
“I know you do. Remember this place, goose. Remember. Come here.”
That’s where my memory ends. He had a daughter and he lost her. He lost the most important thing before everything become so twisted. It explains why his marriage disintegrated and why he felt the way he did with me. He always wanted children and I guess he didn’t want to try again and I was a scared child, looking for guidance and answers. I was his daughter; he was my father. He’s raised me and never asked for anything in return. We were always closer, we shared a closer bond. I was an orphan and he was a grieving father; of course we would share a more profound bond than we shared with the others.
He said he would be there if I got into trouble. I guess being shot is a form of trouble. I have to go with my instincts. He has to be there, I mean he has to be. Losing me would have been more painful to John. Roman would have lost a girl he’s fancied for the longest time. He’d move on. But John. John would have lost his daughter again. I can’t believe I was selfish enough to contemplate leaving him. Death would have been self-indulgent; I have people that still need me.
It’s a few miles away but I should be able to make it there by dawn. I’m in agony but I have to carry on. I have to give myself a reason and a purpose. I can’t be useless. I should be walking around at all. The dates have changed, a fortnight is no longer long enough. I need more time to recover. Ow.
If I run, it will sting like a bitch but I should be able to get there even faster. At this rate, I could quite easily be a marathon runner. I’m no stranger to distance running. The faster I am, the greater the distance I put between me and the camp. No one is stopping me. I have to do this. I have to be the one to find him; it’s almost like he wants me to be the one as confirmation that he hasn’t lost another person. I have to be the one to give him that piece of mind. There is no choice in it. I owe him. I owe him the truth. The truth behind what I did.
I must have been running for about an hour.
I need to sit and get my breath back. I need to recover from the stitch that seems to be tearing my lungs apart and the physical stitches that have been inhibiting my movement. I’m so nearly there. Just a few streets but I need to sit. I have to find a bench or something, just five minutes. The darkness is easing, creating a morning mist and haze.
But this gives me time to view the stars. They are so beautiful. The one constant in the sky. Everything changes but they remain, unaffected. They have been there for millions upon billions of years. They live and they die. As one dies, another is born. A constant cycle of birth and death. Billions upon billions of stars. Planets relying on them for every elements, light and heat. Life. Death. The only constant.
The haze makes it difficult to see anything but it’s comforting to know that they are always there. They may not be visible but they are always there, unchanged. It’s a nice feeling, hopeful almost.
I have to force myself up. I just have a few more metres. I can do it. Fight through the pain. I walk down the street. There is no life there anymore.
I finally reach the street. It’s a typical suburban street with a load of semi-detached houses, pitched against an industrial backdrop. A perfect little piece of suburbia. The typical houses of the working middle classes. With their mortgages and white picket fences. What a contrast now. Money can’t buy you anything these days. If you want something, you scavenge. Simple as. It’s not complicated. Money only complicates things.
John’s house. It’s overwhelming ordinary. Semi detached. Pebble dashed walls. It looks exactly the same as when I was last here. Nothing has changed in six years, that’s rare. He has to be in there, I can see an overturned rubbish bin. It could be another camp that was scavenging here but I’m going with my intuition and my intuition tells me that he’s here. I can’t have just put myself through physical hell,agony, to have it be futile. I walk up to the door. Damn, there’s a smear of blood on the door. How does that, I mean really? I push against the door. It’s locked. Of course it would be. John lost the key in a moment of chaos a few years. He was devastated and after he showed me the photo, I understood why.
I have one of two options. Neither is going to be pleasant for me. Neither is going to pleasant for anyone. Option one: I find the open window we went through when we came here last. That would involve putting pressure on my wound; bad idea. Option two: I break the glass of the back door and unlock it that way. I don’t need to cut myself on glass. I’m still recovering from major internal trauma, I don’t need to lose any more blood at the current time. Two equally terrible ideas. Both are likely to cause me a massive amount of pain. Both are likely to scare the crap out of whoever is inside.
I have to use the window. If I take a run-up, maybe I could tuck and roll in like a ninja. I don’t really fancy breaking John’s house, he does seem quite fond of it. Now, I just have to hope that the window is open. It has to be; I’m sure the lock was busted to keep it that way. I walk around to the side of the house, listening to any sounds that may indicate life inside the house. The window seems like it is open, just a crack. Result. I just have to put a little bit of pressure on the window, open it just enough to get my entire body. I’ve grown considerably since I last went through this window. I’m slim, but I am a lot more muscular than I was at the age of thirteen.
I think I have enough of a gap. Right, I just have to get a run-up and jump. Whether this works or not, I have no clue. If it does, great but if it doesn’t I will go head first into the window, knocking myself out. I’ll give myself a fifty metre run up, that should do it. Okay, here goes nothing. On the count of three. One...two...three.
I’m through but Jesus Christ! That is bound to have done some damage. Shit, shit, shit! Ow!
At least I’m through; John, you’d better be here you bastard. It’s a good thing Rita’s taken my stitches out otherwise, I would be in trouble. That would finish me off well and truly. My abdomen hasn’t half been through a beating the past month. Before I’d had a few minor scars but now my stomach looks horrific. Damn it, this is going to sting for a good few weeks or months yet.
The force puts pressure on my lungs, forcing me to cough. I begin to have a coughing fit. A violent coughing fit. My lungs feel like they are on fire. All of my coughing ends with a handful of blood. Oh my god. I think I’m in trouble.
I look up.
Looking up at a bedraggled, wild eyed man.