My breath is caught in my throat. I’ve slid down a wall and sit with my knees pulled up to my chest and my hands squeezing my head. Around me, snow blows in swirls of gray and the cold bites at my cheeks, but I hardly feel it. Nor do I pay attention to the figure leaning against a nearby wall, dressed in a blood red uniform and cradling a rifle.
No. Instead, I’m panicking.
Because ****, I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to do when I’m alone, with no one to help me, nowhere to go, and no money. There is nothing to help me but my wits, nerve, and anything I can scavenge out of this grim world.
And I am scared out of my mind. I don’t know how long I crouch there in the cold, fear battering me internally as the snow batters me externally. My hands tremble as I press them against my scalp, but the real show takes place inside – there seems to be a prolonged shrieking within my head. I need time. Money. Resources. And I have nothing. My head is in a whirl, but one thought rings sharp and true – Help. I need help.
Laughter floats to me in the wind, as if the idea of finding help in this wasteland is a worthy joke. I glance up with a jolt. The single red soldier that I had noticed before is now joined by another, and together they stand, those blank helmeted heads turned towards me.
This time, the fear that shoots through me is of a different kind. It’s not a dreadful cold settling into the pit of my stomach, but a spike of ice through my veins.
With the stride of someone who knows their own power, the soldiers step across the snow. I dare not move. My first instinct is to run, but I know from experience that it’s hard to run from things with great advantages over you. Advantages like long range weapons.
And so I wait, my eyes on the snowy ground beneath me. Their voices reach me soon –
“That one must be stupid. It’s been sitting in the snow for the past half hour.” The voice is colder than the wind, made automated and expressionless by the helmet. They say it’s for the person’s identity protection, but I often wonder if they are people at all behind those helmets. Perhaps they are only machines – but could a mere machine be so cruel? Machines may be heartless, but it’s people who are cruel and take pleasure in pain.
Speaking of cruelty – my breath violently catches and my head slams back against the wall when one of the soldiers brings his foot back and kicks me in the side with force like a train. I taste blood as my head lolls back against the wall and I find myself looking straight at the blank head now crouching down in front of me.
A gloved hand grabs my trembling chin and yanks my face up. “Too bad such a pretty little face is wasted on you,” the voice says, and I would rather it sneer, because it’s so inhuman, so cold.
My saving grace, ironically, is the other soldier. Who knows how this could’ve turned out otherwise. “Come on, let’s get out of here,” the robotic voice states, and the hand leaves my face and together they march off into the snow.
I can’t bring myself to move so I lie, leaking crimson into the white snow and watching as the small stain spreads. Finally, I force myself to my feet, blinking the stars out of my eyes and scuffing a foot over the scarlet marks. I wipe the rest of the blood off my chin as well as I can with my old parka and cautiously poke my head around the corner of the building, my eyes searching the bleak landscape for any sign of life. Nothing but gray crumbling buildings and icicles. I give a huff of relief and duck around the corner, stooping to slide underneath a slanting doorway to tend to my baby brother.
The shadows cast by the flickering orange light of the fire mock me as I set eyes on my brother, lying prone and motionless on the floor.
My heart stutters. So still.
I rush to his side and nearly faint in relief when his eyes flutter open.
His hand twitches weakly by his side and I grab it as I kneel by him. “Don’t worry, Sis,” he croaks. “I’m not dead yet.”
“Not funny Lorence,” I hiss. My little brother chuckles and I’m relieved to see that though his strength is quickly sapped, his eyes are still clear.
“How is it?” I whisper, my eyes travelling down to his leg, hidden underneath a pile of ratty blankets.
“Hurts like ****,” he replies with a grimace, dark brows drawn together in pain. “Clean it again?”
I run a hand through my hair. “I don’t know, Lore. I don’t have anything but water to clean it with. We need medicine.”
He gives my hand a weak squeeze, and I look down at our hands. Our skin color matches perfectly, a creamy pale brown. My mother used to tell me that it was a wonder we weren’t twins, we look so alike. Inky black hair, nut brown eyes, long arms and legs… My throat closes at the thought of losing him. My brother.
“Leave me, Sloane,” he says hoarsely. “I’ll be fine, just leave me some food and water and go find someone to help.”
Never have I felt so helpless. “I -” I stop, shake my head, pull at my hair some more. “How can I leave you? Where can I go?” My voice cracks and my hand shakes as I hold his. Despite the chill creeping into our hideout, our hands are sweaty as I clench his fingers.
“Remember what dad always said? “There’s always a light. Sometimes we just have to-”
“- uncover it,” I finish, and my heart aches for my dad, aches for the reassurance he gave with his warm eyes. I lean down and kiss my brothers forehead, even though he is fifteen now. “Love you Lore,” I whisper. “I won’t let you become a shadow.”
“Love you too Sis. Be careful.” His brown eyes look into mine and I know, in my heart, that I will find some way to save him. I will.