My friend gave me this book about life and how to be a better person. He said it is his favorite book but judging by the way he acts he didn’t even read the summary on the back cover. He’s still the same shithead as he always was. I, however, promised myself that I would finish all 198 pages of instructions on becoming a better me. I still didn’t get to the part about anger management and I’m already on page fucking 122.
I hear a faint rumble in the distance. I close my book, get out of my semi-comfortable bed, and look out the window. It is dark outside. A beautifully bright shooting star soars across the sky. Too bad the myth about making a wish is a lie. I could really use one right now. Heavy raindrops hit the window as I press my face against the cold glass to find out what’s going on out there. Nothing looks out of the ordinary. Then, suddenly, the sirens from the local fire station wail.
“Yo! What’s going on outside?” I shout, feeling anxious for some reason.
Did they hear me?
I open my bedroom door and shout “Mom! Do you know what’s happening?”
My mom is probably downstairs, doing whatever mothers do downstairs. She doesn’t reply. My younger brother Scotty jumps out of the bathroom, the toilet still flushing in the background. He obviously didn’t wash his hands but he’s already scratching his chin. Good job, dickhead.
Scotty is seventeen. I hope I wasn’t this daft when I was his age. Then again, who am I to judge? I’m not perfect.
“It’s just a false alarm. You know, one of those practice routines they do,” Scotty says.
“Not this late at night,” I reply.
“Scared? Pussy.” He laughs, making mocking chicken sounds and flapping his elbows.
My brothers and I always call each other names when we talk. My dad ignored it, but my mom still hates it. I figure that it’s what is said that matters, not how. Anyway, I believe that if mere words hurt your feelings then you’re a weak little shit. At least that’s what my older brother Sean told me at a very young age and that stuck with me.
Sean is twenty-five. He’s studying psychology or something at a university in Noslow, which is on the other side of our oh-so-beloved country. I’ve only visited him once. I don’t know if he misses us at much as we miss him.
Yeah, I’m the middle child. I’m twenty-two, which makes me old enough to do everything I want, but too inexperienced to do anything I want. I still live at home. Taking online college courses and kickboxing isn’t fulfilling. I thought about enlisting into the military after what happened to Dad. Mom has changed ever since Dad got killed in the war last year; I hated it when I read the letter the military sent us, saying he “passed away.” Did he die of natural causes? Fucking no he didn’t. It’s war. He didn’t just pass away. He got fucking killed. I was naïve for thinking that if I prayed every night, GOD would bring him back home safe. I still feel Mom hasn’t accepted that he’s not coming back...ever.
I hear Mom walking into the living room and the short flickering sound our TV makes when it gets turned on.
I walk down the staircase, past the dead-eyed, smiling portraits of us framed on the wall.
“The news … we’re under attack,” Mom whispers harshly, trying to hide the bad news from Scotty.
“Don’t listen to that shit on the TV. We’re not under—” Scotty says from upstairs, annoyed.
“Language!” Mom barks at him.
The dampened sound of the sirens still wails outside.
Suddenly I can feel a slight shake, as if a giant was walking across the street and coming closer with each step.
A deathly cold shiver runs down my spine as I rush towards the front door. I quickly open it and the screeching siren sound blasts against me. Our neighbor Mark Kindleton, the local pastor and possible child molester, is yelling at his family to get into the car.
“MOOM!” I roar as I slam the door and rush back into the living room. “We need to leave. The TV was right!”
Her face freezes in blank horror as she looks back at me. The last time she looked like that was when she read the letter about Dad’s death.
Scotty is standing on the stairs; a look of confusion and terror replaces the grin he just had a few seconds ago.
I wait for Mom to say something, but she doesn’t move, doesn’t even flinch. I wish Sean was here. He always knows what to do in situations like these, when everything goes to shit. What would he do? What would -
The sounds of explosions draw closer, the ground is trembling violently, and the walls shake.
We don’t have much time, so I need to take the initiative and get us the hell out of here.
Both Mom and Scotty are too terrified to move, however, she starts muttering the word “basement” over and over.
“The basement won’t save us,” I say furiously, grabbing her arm. “Scotty! Let’s go! We need to get the fuck outta here!”
“We need to go into the basement, Gellert. That’s what they said on TV,” Mom cries.
“And do what?” I say, looking into her tear-filled eyes. “Wait down there for them to kill us?”
She starts crying and so does Scotty.
I resist the urge to panic, because crying won’t get us out of this fucking mess and start thinking. We won’t survive out there without any gear, and I remember that a lot of Dad’s old military equipment is in the basement. We need food and clothes and … we need to get the fuck out of here, fast.
“Scotty! Grab a backpack and fill it with clothes,” I roar over the loud noise coming from outside, shutting both of them up. “Mom! Grab all the canned food you can fit into any bag you can find! NOW!”
They hesitate for a few seconds before we all dart off into different directions. I head to the basement to get dad’s gear. I find a large military bag and fill it with as many items I imagine to be useful. A first aid kit, binoculars, a compass, and grandpa’s old revolver. I pause, looking at a picture of our family that Dad kept on a shelf, before I rush back upstairs to find Scotty helping Mom fill up a large cooler. It’s way too big but yelling at them won’t improve the situation, so I just roll with it.
“Let’s go, let’s go, let’s GO!” I shout, grabbing one end of the cooler as Scotty grabs the other end.
We step outside into the chaos. A three-vehicle collision is blocking the only exit out of the cul de sac. The drivers are yelling at each other. Interesting what fear does to life-long neighbors and friends. The other passengers are grabbing their belongings from the trunk. Many are running blindly into the opposite direction from where the explosion sounds are coming from. And so will we.
As we are running, I realize we are like ants running away from a toddler who cannot decide which one to kill first. I look at the sky, trying to spot any planes or drones. But nothing is up there. What is dropping the bombs?
Another shooting star soars across the night sky. Followed by another barrage of explosions and cries of panic. That was close. Too close. Fires rise above the buildings just a few blocks away.
The three of us reach the end of our street and take a left. I can see the highway now that will take us out of this suburban area. Maybe if we make it into the forest we will be safe. Maybe they’re just targeting homes, because that’s where they expect to kill the most people. At least that’s what I hope. I urge my brother and mom to keep on pushing forward, when suddenly the highway erupts in a wall of flame, heat, and smoke. The explosion is so strong, it knocks us off our feet.
I’m a bit dazed but I shake it off quickly and help Scotty and Mom to their feet.
“Forget the food,” I say, looking at the open cooler and our supplies lying on the cement. “We need to run!”
Scotty and I start sprinting, but I hear my mom crying out, “NO!”
I turn around to see her crouching on the ground, trying to refill the cooler.
“MOM! We need to go!” I insist. Scotty stops running as well, watching her desperate attempt to shove a can of beans and bottle of water back into the cooler.
“Stay here, I’ll get her,” I tell my brother, as I start running towards her.
I can almost grab her when I hear a loud car engine and then everything happens in slow motion before my eyes.
A red pick-up truck crashes through a wooden fence and takes a sharp turn onto the road we’re standing on. I can see the shock in the eyes of the driver as he sees my mother too late, while she is crouching low to grab a packet of sliced ham. He tries to evade her but cannot react quickly enough. The truck hits my mom in the hip with a bone-crushing thump.
She lets out a loud cry and falls sideways to the ground. The truck doesn’t stop.
“Mom?” I gasp, not believing what just happened.
Please be okay, please be okay, please be okay.
I kneel next to her, forgetting everything around me. She’s still breathing.
“Mom!” I scream.
She looks up at me as I hold her head.
“Mama!?” Scotty cries.
“Gellert,” she whispers. Her blood is slowly soaking the cement around her.
I grab her hand as hard as I can without crushing her fingers, tears filling my confused eyes.
“Mom?” I say, my voice cracking up.
She opens her eyes. They are not dead anymore like they were for the past thirteen months. They’re glowing, as if they were trying to tell me something.
“Gellert,” she whispers.
My brother’s voice wakes me up from an uneasy sleep. The backseat of this car smells like a wet dog died and became one with the cushion. But it was either sleeping inside of this piece of cunt or outside in the unforgiving rain.
It’s been about seven months since we left our home. I always knew that our country was large, but holy fucking shit, it’s massive. We’ve seen a lot of change since the bombing. The first week was insane. People were rushing into the megacities and all public bunkers. You can bet how crowded that was. I have never seen so much waste of flesh at once. It’s pathetic how people act when they think the world is ending. Hell, even I thought the world was ending, but I didn’t behave like a selfish cunt. Scotty and I immediately realized that fleeing into a city was foolish. Imagine a sea of cockroaches spilling out from crumbling concrete coffins. The city wasn’t the place to be. So, we left and tried our luck on the road.
The second month is when the chaos started cooling down. Smaller towns became empty, because everyone tried to get into the megacities.. We ate everything that was left behind in the vacant homes. We slept in unoccupied beds and looted abandoned stores. It was quiet and we slowly adapted. Occasionally, we were able to charge our only phone. We talked to Sean and he told us Noslow was, despite being overcrowded, mostly intact and a good place to live in. And that’s where we started heading towards.
The third month is when things started getting crazy. From what started to be meeting wanderers here and there evolved. Groups of people formed. The people that didn’t get into the cities created their own strongholds, with their own sets of laws and moral codes. The farms that weren’t claimed and fortified by the cities remained accessible for the rest of us to conquer. Despite the vast number of bombs that were thrown at our country, there was so much unused, intact infrastructure just waiting out there. While talking to people, I’ve heard that 40% of our population was wiped out. Others say the actual numbers are much higher.
Groups of outlaws, god-worshipping cults, and other barbaric fanatics are the unofficial leaders of the territory outside of the megalopolises; anarchy at its fucking finest. We were naïve. And we paid the price. We’ve been tricked by seemingly innocent families. Blindsided by attractive women and teenagers. But the first time we were forced to kill for survival, was when we met Olaf, the priest. I still have nightmares of him and his small following.
However, everyone, including those who have found haven inside of the city, has a common enemy. A disease has been going on a rampage out here. It starts off with a rash, but then it slowly eats away at the flesh. An unpleasant way to go. I’d rather get waterboarded and burnt alive at the same time. I think.
Rumor is that we were bombed with some kind of biological weapon, though others say that the disease is a side-effect from the radiation exposure. Then there are the religious fanatics, preaching that it’s God’s wrath for humanity’s sins. Whatever it is, fuck it.
“Wake up. There’s an interstate sign back there!” Scotty says, opening the car door and stepping outside. The sun blinds me as I smell myself. God fucking damn I need a shower. Should’ve cracked the car window, but we can’t risk anyone hearing us. Apparently, I snore. Must be the broken nose.
“How did you sleep?” I ask Scotty. He’s grown up a lot over the past few months. Still a dumb piece of shit but mature enough for an eighteen-year-old.
“Better than you,” he says, rummaging through his backpack for a protein bar. How do I know he is searching for a protein bar? Well, that’s all we have in our backpacks. That, some dirty clothes, and a brick. “I had that dream again.”
“Which one? The wet one? Or …” I ask.
“The one with the towers,” he says.
“Oh … that one. Anything happen this time?”
Scotty has been having these weird dreams lately. Or should I say this one weird dream. It keeps coming back. Like herpes. In the beginning, I thought he was just full of shit. As per usual. He said he would always see four towers. He could barely remember what the tower closest to him looked like, but he insists they looked different. And every time he dreams about it, he would be able to get closer to the tower before he wakes up. Or maybe he’s just telling me this bullshit because he’s bored. Boredom does catch up to us. It’s lonely out here and the excitement of survival faded after the first few weeks. Hell, it’s tough to just keep a positive attitude. But we’re doing this for a damn good reason. That’s all I need to not give up.
“How many bars do we have left?” I ask.
“There’s seven left in this box. Then four more boxes, so …”
“I was about to say that.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. Did you leave anything in the car?”
“Na. Let’s see how far we walked since yesterday.”
Just the two of us walking on a deserted highway feels weird, even though we’ve been travelling on it for two weeks already. I used to think sunrises were beautiful, now they just remind me of another entire day of walking. I don’t even mind the blisters on my feet anymore. I have a love-hate relationship with the boots I’m wearing. Yes, they’re sturdy. Yes, they’re practical. But, holy moly, breaking them in was a pain. And the smell. The bloodstained inner soles carry an intense stench a skunk would envy.
“Only 136 more miles till Noslow!” Scotty shouts, pointing at a sign. We look at each other and laugh. Our laughter replaces the eerie silence that crawls over the wasteland, smothering the life out of it. It feels good to laugh. That’s what makes me the happiest. Seeing my brother laugh his heart out.
One-hundred-thirty-six miles is one hell of a walk. That’s going to take a while.
“First thing I’m going to do when we get to Noslow is shit in a real toilet,” Scotty says, tapping his stomach. We laugh again.
“One-hundred-ten more to go!” Scotty yells, as he points towards the new interstate sign. The sun is slowly vanishing beyond the horizon. Sweat droplets are dripping down my back and onto the street, leaving a little trail of salty body water behind. The lack of sunlight makes room for an uneasy chill in the air. Is it already August? I don’t know. I don’t count the days. Scotty puts on his worn-out leather jacket. I dig out the old hoodie from my backpack.
“Wanna go to Parstatt and see if there’s some shit?” I ask Scotty, pointing towards a small deserted city next to the highway.
“I have a bad feeling,” Scotty says.
“It’s going to get dark soon,” I say, looking at the position of the sun in the sky.
Scotty gives in and we head down the off-ramp of the highway towards the outskirts of the deserted city. The eeriness of being alone in a once-populated area never seems to leave, no matter how many times we stroll through a ghost town. I feel like we’re being watched. But I always feel paranoid and I don’t want to worry Scotty for no reason.
Graffiti on a wall declaring Cyborgs are not human catches my attention.
“I lowkey want to be a cyborg,” I say.
Scotty scoffs at the vandalism. “Why so?” he asks.
“I was also fascinated about being something … beyond human.”
Then, suddenly, I hear what sounds like somebody dragging their feet as they walk. A twisted cackling echoes through the concrete canyon as a scrawny silhouette emerges from the shadows and slowly steps into the road.