Fantasticoe -- 2012
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Wasteland

Amanda Ickes

I didn't ask for anything. Not a single thing.

“Help me, Mallorie! Help!”

I couldn’t make myself move.

            “Mallorie! Stop them! Stop!”

I couldn’t make them stop.

            “Mallorie! Mal!”

Stuck. Staring. Stupefied.

I shook myself out of the nightmare with a shudder, then did a quick head count. One, two, and me makes three. The same as always, just different faces. By now I knew the faces, but the people behind them were still a mystery. I hoped it would stay that way.

            “Alright there, Mallorie?” asked Christian.

            “Sure thing Chris. I can take over the watch now.”

            He didn’t protest, simply laid down where he had been crouching while Evan and I took our turns to rest. I turned away from the two of them and stared out the smeary window overlooking the desolate city. It was quiet, but as always, that could change quickly. I looked hard at the abandoned news kiosk across the street, and the nightmare prickled the edges of my consciousness. So much time I spent fighting it. It’s impossible to fight memory. I let the living nightmare stab me through once more as I listened to my brother cry out to me….

           

We were trying to move quickly and remain unseen-- a momentous task. When we saw the newsstand it was the perfect stepping stone to our destination-- the warehouse a block away. Daniel was impatient-- what thirteen-year-old isn’t?

            “Let’s go Mallorie! Right now!”

            “Just hold it,” I told him, “you know what Dad said--“

            “--one at a time, nobody gets left behind. I know!” parroted Daniel.

            “Right. So I’ll go check it out and you come next.”

            “Can we do the signal?” he asked.

            I reached out to ruffle his hair then pulled back. For all his eagerness he had still turned into such a little man so early.

 “Sure thing, bro,” I told him.

            “Cool,” he said. “Let’s go!”

            I looked left, right, forward, not back. Danny always had the back. Clear. Grabbed my pack and bolted down the block. Ducked under the dangling awning and peered around the small space quickly. Clear. I turned to give him the signal to follow and heard a different signal-- one I’d only heard once before from my dad. Horrified, I watched Daniel running toward me, followed by a small pack of Eaters. He was blowing the silver whistle each of us had worn since the beginning of the end. Blowing as hard as he could.

            “Help me, Mallorie! Help!”

I couldn’t make myself move. My heart pulsed as I watched him stumble, then fall over a pile of rubble. They were just yards away, then feet, then they were on him. He screamed and my body heaved at the cry, but my limbs did not move and my eyes did not close.

            “Mallorie! Stop them! Stop!”

            The Eaters were tearing him apart-- their grotesque limbs a deceiving mask for their inhuman strength. I couldn’t make them stop. The scene went on and on, and as I saw life being torn from him I felt it pouring out of me. Beat by beat.

I couldn’t stop watching even though he wasn’t Danny any longer-- just a few bits of flesh and a pool of blood staining the broken cement and a scream that was unending. The scream. The scream didn’t stop and that was when I realized it was my lungs, my vocal cords, giving voice to that keening cry. My diaphragm was still very much alive as it pumped air into my throat and I wished I could choke on the sound….

 

And then I really was choking but this time it was sobs that were wrenched from my throat and given to the still night.

            “Mallorie, Mallorie! Stop, girl, stop,” Christian said. I felt his hands holding my shoulders. He was holding me to this earth and I thudded back to reality. Evan was staring at me with wide eyes. Poor kid. He had enough of his own nightmares to deal with.

            “Look, guys, I’m sorry,” I said. “I guess we’re all more tired than we know.”

            “Don’t worry about it,” Christian said. “It’s time for all of us to be awake anyway.”

            The three of us packed up our few blankets and slung them across our backs. Today would be spent exploring the warehouse-- assessing its security and making a plan to determine how long we could spend in this place. When Chris and Evan had shown up a week ago, I was embarrassed at being unable to answer any of their questions about the building. I didn’t even know how long I had spent in the dark room we used to set up camp.

Christian had shared very little and I didn’t ask questions. I didn’t care and it didn’t matter. They were trusting of me, but careful. We arranged a system of watching and exploring. The two of them gathered supplies and tools while I acted as a lookout. The process had worked until now, but I needed to know more about the building. I needed to consider my options.

            “Let’s start downstairs first,” I told them. “We can locate any entrances and mark them-- I have a notebook.”

            “We should find the best ones to create an escape route too,” Chris said evenly. I nodded. I didn’t know how he felt about the way I continued to take charge, but I still appreciated his input.

            I set off down the stairs with Evan at my heels and Christian taking up the rear. He had a habit of looking behind him often, and I was glad. There were too many dark corners in this building. Too many places for eyes to see us but remain unseen. We reached the ground floor and walked through a set of double doors when the ground began to shake. I froze, then spun to face Chris and Evan.

            “Go back to the doorway,” I said, trying to raise my voice over the rocking of the earth. I had no idea how sound the building was structurally. The frame of the door could provide a safe spot for us until we figured out what was happening. The three of us stood in the doorway for several minutes, holding our ears to block out the noise. Then, as suddenly as the quaking had begun, it stopped. From outside, there was a boom. The noise was louder than anything I had ever heard.

There was the boom and then we waited in the stillness. Perched on our toes. Unable to decide if we should move or stay. I didn't know what was happening. Neither did they. The one commonality between us. One that I resented. And still, I could not escape it. Dust floated through the air, a shroud for the faint glow of light that was left. It was now hot, now cold, and my body convulsed, trying to find equilibrium.

When it seemed long enough after the boom that upended everything, I beckoned to Christian and Evan.

“Quickly,” I said quietly. “We still need to get this done.”

“Mallorie?” said Chris. “Don’t you think it would be better to head back up and find out what happened out there?” His words were a question but his eyes were hard, resolved, as I returned his gaze.

“But it wouldn’t be better,” I said. “Even if we could see anything, that knowledge would not keep us from getting ourselves trapped up there without a clear idea of a way out. Got it?” I didn’t wait for an answer but turned back to our path.

From behind me, Chris huffed-- there was no other word for it. I didn’t respond, but went forward. Darting from corner to corner, I did my best to remain on the fringe, in the shadow. The others imitated my behavior, but they were clumsy. At every creak their movements caused, I fingered my trigger. To silence the offender or to protect from an attacker, I did not know. Prayed I wouldn't have to find out.

The space became more hollow and we began to move more cautiously to avoid incrimination by our echoing footsteps. All of our lives were tied together, and our only chance was to escape the giant building that entombed us. The haven turned atrocious nightmare. In the flickering amber light, even Chris and Evan looked otherworldly and unreal. I blinked once to clear my vision, then again to clear my mind. I could not afford to be careless.

Outside, there would be other dangers, but for now, the greatest drawback came from our lack of vision in the oppressive space. And the greatest threat were those who could see. The Eaters. Merciless, hungry.

This was no longer the Earth I knew. I had no way to control myself or others in a world that was itself out of control. And yet, these two followed me, though it was clear that no allegiances would be formed, no alliances would be honored. The power of numbers was all we had. A faint hope, though, because the numbers were decidedly not on our side.

And then, as suddenly as the calm had descended before, it was shattered. From nowhere and everywhere at once, a throng of Eaters bore down upon us from every direction. They moved quickly, but only when they had a stationary target. I had to stay mobile. Chris and Evan were close behind me, their breathing ragged with fear. They were fools to become paralyzed by their emotions, and yet I would not abandon them until they put me in danger.

I hurried to check my weapon and made for a stairway. I should not allow myself to become trapped on an upper level with no means of escape, but I could not allow these creatures to surround me and gain the advantage of higher ground. If only there was a clear way out.

“Christian!” Evan’s cry was high-pitched and panicked. I glanced to my left and saw him. Somehow the distance between him and the two of us had grown and he had stopped, stuck in his fear.

“Come on, Evan! Move it!” Christian shouted back to him. “You’ve got to move!” But Christian seemed to be stuck too.

Evan was trying to move, and I could see his fists clenching as he concentrated on overcoming the panic. It was a familiar scene when he suddenly bolted toward us, flanked by the Eaters. Memories flashed through my mind and I turned to continue moving, trying to escape everything that haunted me.

“Help me!” Evan screamed. “Help!”

“Help me, Mallorie! Help!”

            The scream made me pause and once again I turned. Quickly I lifted my gun and fired off three shots. Three Eaters fell around him and gave Christian a chance to run to Evan. Christian grabbed him and began to drag him along as they moved toward me.

            “Upstairs. We’ll be safe,” I shouted to them. We weren’t far. We could make it.

Opportunity presents itself only briefly and when mine came I merely reacted. The chink of light- natural light- could have been easily missed in the chaos, but a glimpse of it was enough. Pointing Christian once again to the staircase, only yards away, I changed my course, darting to the light.

“Mallorie,” shouted Chris. “Get over here!” He hadn’t seen the light. Not my fault. They were secure for the present. I didn’t answer him, just ran. To the outside, and the chance at survival.