Cold winds carried puffy gray clouds across the dark blue skies, while loose papers danced along the empty streets. Tall city buildings wilted with decay, crumbling under the weight of their own structure as they reached for the sky.
“Alex, hurry up! We might get caught if we keep standing out in the open like this.”
A red-headed boy complained to the other boy who was digging through a rusty old dumpster. Rummaging through the trash and old food containers, the male sighed and looked back at him.
“James, stop rushing me. Do you want us to starve? Or what?” We need food.”
“I know, but we need to find cover. I do not want those things finding us.”
Alex rolled his eyes as he threw some old slightly rusted cans at James’s feet. James panicked trying to pick them up, struggling,he shoved them into a dirty old bag.
“Stop making so much noise you twit.” James whispered to Alex, who only sighed and turned in James’s direction.
Jumping from the lip of the dumpster, Alex began picking up the cans that James could not fit into his burlap sack. Alex grabbed both strings on his sack and jerked it shut. Grabbing a hold of James’s arm, he pulled him out into the mossy, waste-littered streets.
“What are you doing you idiot? Are you trying to get us killed!?” James jerked his arm away from Alex, who turned and glared straight into his brownish, red eyes.
“If you don’t shut up, I’ll leave you here on your own. Now follow me. We need to head back now because we can’t go back the way we came through.”
“Why not? It was a lot safer?”
“Well, now it is not. Unless you want to be monster food, James, then I suggest you follow me and go this way.”
“Fuck! Okay, fine, I mean, calm down already. I’m coming. Just don’t pull my arm out of the socket.”
Partially crouching behind destroyed cars, the two boys made their way across the street. The sounds of dying sirens and crackling fire invaded the once peaceful silence. Rushing through the tall weeds, Alex pulled James to the side, then whispered softly into James’s freckled ear. “Don’t make any noise. It’s right on the other side of that wall.”
James gave Alex a panicked look, and in return, Alex slapped a hand over James’s mouth, shushing him. Slowly he pulled his hand away from James’s mouth and pointed under the car. The two had hastily hidden behind. Mouthing the words, “follow me.” Getting down onto his hands and knees, Alex rolled underneath the car, even though the ground was covered in spilled oil and rusty nails. Swiftly making his way to the backend of the car, Alex quietly pushed a rusted piece of metal back up into the car’s rear-end.
Crawling to the next car over, Alex looked back, waving James to follow. Reluctantly James moved himself under the car, slowly pushing his burlap sack towards Alex. James followed Alex’s lead, doing his best to push the metal bar up and out of the way only for it to slip and cut his hand, hissing, James cradled his sliced palm close to his chest.
“Come on James! Hurry up! We’re going to get caught.” Alex whispered to James.
Quickly making their way out from under the line of cars, the two boys made a break for it. Running into a half broken down building, the sound of thundering footsteps chased after the boys, as they both jumped down one of the various laundry chutes in the nearest open and vacant building.
“Alex, what in God’s name, made you think that this was a clever idea!?”
“Shut up James, it was our only option now get off me!” Alex grumbled as he shoved James off of him.
“Well sorry Mr. My Good Ideas, I’d prefer not to die of infection from rusty metal or from those creeps.” James shoved his hand into Alexs’s face waving it around like a child.
“Stop whining and give me your hand so I can disinfect it.” Alex grabbed James by the wrist and pulled him closer. James complied and scooted across the cold, damp, ground level floor towards Alex.
Rummaging through the leather handbag he had been carrying on his hip. Then pulling out a brown glass bottle with a tattered label, he popped the lid off the bottle’s top and poured some of the fizzing liquid into the bottle’s little white cap.
“This is going to burn a bit.” Alex spoke quietly to James, who only nodded in response.
Pouring the liquid onto James’s hand, the peroxide fizzled in his cut. James hisses as soon as it makes contact with his injury. Trying to jerk his hand away, Alex tightened his grip on James’s wrist pulling him back.
“Don’t move.” Alex said.
“It hurts Alex.” James mumbled looking at the floor.
“I know, but I must clean it, so hold still.” Alex sighed, wrapping up James’s hand with dirty white bandages.
Cleaning their scuffs and scrapes, the two boys began to look around the ground level laundry room. Sluggishly rising to his feet, Alex helped James up. Holding each other’s hands in a soft embrace they made their way down the hallway that led out of the laundry room. The cement walls of the basement were damp with mildew and murky water, and the whole place smelled like an old basement.
Dripping water accompanied the tapping of their shoes, as scurrying mice rushed in front of them occasionally, and daylight leaked through various holes in the building’s foundation. When they made it to the end of the long hallway, Alex cautiously put pressure on the first step, and with great care he made his way up the steps as James followed him at a slight distance. The walk back to the camp was slow and cold, the crumpling city was all that was left of a once great nation.
“Alex, can you tell me the story about the explosion again?” James tugged Alex’s sleeve like a child trying to get its mother’s attention.
“I suppose, but you already know how it goes. Why do you want me to tell you again?” Alex gave James a confused look.
“It’s not a delightful story, but it’s too quiet out here.” James looked up at Alex with a weak smile. Alex sighed and began to tell the tale.
While the world was still whole and the city’s strong, and gloriously gleaming buildings reached for the clouds, men became greedy. Using the bible as an excuse and for inspiration, leaders of the great city began an ambitious project. The project was called The Star Project. The leaders in charge planned to build huge skyscrapers that reached into the heavens. They thought to reach eternity promised in the bible without bothering to follow its rules of conduct to reach eternity. It took years and billions of dollars to build The Star Project, and expectedly hundreds lost their lives to the Eternity Tower. However, once the Eternity Tower from the Star Project was finished, and the first man greedily stepped into the clouds that held Heavens Golden Gates, something occurred that the city’s leaders never considered. The man, who stepped in front of the Golden Gates was savagely tortured by God in his time of controlled wrath. Then with the man’s last ragged, dying breath, he managed to give a message directly from the Heavens. His final utterance was one simple, yet terrifying sentence.” Alex deepened his voice to sound more threatening, “I warned you!”
Then a meteor, rumored to be the size of a small moon, struck Earth, and the fragile planet shattered as the tower fell into the endless void that was created between the planet’s surviving surfaces.” Looking around, Alex pulled James into the lobby of a broken-down hotel. The two walked hand in hand through the messy hotel’s lobby.
“Tom, Jake, we are back!” Alex shouted for the other two survivors that they had been staying with for the past few days.
“Get into the kitchen, now!” Someone shouted back at the two.
Alex let go of James’s wrist and took his burlap bag. Making their way into the kitchen, the two scruffy teenage boys stood by one of the well-worn wooden counters towards the center of the kitchen. A boy with brunette and blond-streaked hair looked in Alex’s direction as he entered the room. Then he said,
“Here, Tom, take this. I found some old soup cans that we can get food from, but the city is running out of food, and we will need to move to another place very soon or risk starving.” Alex sighed, as he handed some of his bag’s contents to the brown-haired boy.
“Ya, no kidding. Those stupid robot things keep multiplying too. This place is becoming more and more unsafe by the minute.” Fishing through the bag, Tom pulled out the final ragged cans and sat them on the pitted wood surface of the counter.
“Hey, James cut his hand on some rusted metal. If I’m not here, can you remember to check on it until it heals.”
“Alright Alex, will do; I’m going to take a wild guess and say you’re going to, go out and look for that damn bridge, huh?” Tom glanced at the red head across the room from him.
“Damn right. If we’re going to survive, we need to get out of this contaminated zone. I found a map of the city while digging through the trash. I looked to see if it had the location of the factory on it, and it did. It’s about 7 to 10 miles from here. I want to see what the shortest route will be.” Alex rolled the map out on the table and slid his finger across its surface, pointing straight at the factory’s almost rubbed out name.
“I’m not sure this is a promising idea.” Jack said, as he looked over the map he pointed at the symbol.
“That’s the subway station. Maybe if you use it, like a tunnel or passageway, it could be faster.” Jack dragged his finger across the map to the factory, tapping it a few times.
“If it’s not blocked up or caved in, I’ll try it, but if it is, I may have to take the interstate.” He declared, motioning to the highway.” Alex sighed and folded the old, crumpled tourist map up, and stuffing it in his pocket. Then he took out a piece of paper and began to chart and document the way he planned to travel.
“If I don’t come back after a while, then don’t come looking for me. This will be dangerous, and I will most likely be dead, but it is worth the risk, because if we can make it through, then we will have a lot more resources. Hopefully. I will come back and bring you all to the other side with me.” Alex handed the paper over to Tom who folded it up and put it in his hat.
“I’ll pack my stuff for the trip.”
“We should all go together. I mean, we only have food for one trip.” Jack motioned towards the almost completely empty pantry.
“Shit, you’re probably right. I hadn’t thought about that. Okay, start packing your stuff because we need to leave at first light.” Alex grumbled at the lack of preparation and foresight.
The night was long and cold, the sound of the outside world plagued the inside of their temporary home with eerie and threatening sounds. The morning was no different. Alex had an unsettled feeling of pending doom as the group of teens set off at dawn. They deliberately traveled along the back streets of the town. Crisp morning dew decorated overgrown flower beds and small patchy yards. The once barren city was now flush with green leaves, trees, weeds, and wildflowers.
“It’s a lovely morning.” Jack smiled at his companions. Walking beside them in the gravel and dirt.
The path the boys had taken was through the park that sat in the middle of the once great city.
“Indeed, it is.” James smiled back.
“We need to be quiet, stop talking.” Alex grumbled, swatting at James. Who flinched away from Alex’s offending hand.
“Alex be nice, they’re just trying to lift our spirits.” Tom glared at the red-headed boy.
“I don’t care what they’re doing. I’d prefer not to be ripped to shreds! If you don’t mind.”
“Party pooper.” Jack laughed,
Avoiding the main streets, the four boys finally made it to an old gas station. Most of it was empty; however, not looting what remained was not an option. With the sparse amount of food that they had, the boys needed to find any and every scrap of food possible. In fact, it was extremely important. Maybe even more important than finding the bridge. Rustling through old bags and boxes on the near barren shelves of the gas station, the boys hardly found anything was found.
Unfortunately, half eaten scraps, molded bread, and raw potatoes were the only thing that was found.
“Shit, we are going to starve. We need to find a grocery store, a market or something.” Tom muttered to Alex who held open the map in front of him.
“I think anything we find will be like this place. Everything is going to be molded and gross. We may have to start hunting for things to eat. Fishing or hunting may be the only possibility we have. Although I think all of the animals that haven’t been are most likely contaminated.” Alex said, then pointed to a spot on the map. “There’s a Big Bass Pro Shop, in the city next to us. We can find hunting and fishing supplies there, but then again there might not be much left as everyone is struggling and fighting to survive.”