Watching them didn’t take as long as I thought. They have grown so powerful it’s made them sloppy. Raider trucks have been coming at such a steady clip; they are given access inside the walls barely inspected. Those trucks are my way in. I have to act soon, no telling when the raids will slow down. Eventually, there will be nothing left to steal.
I’m finding comfort in this abandoned studio, and it’s only been one day. Staying still makes me weak. I dread having to pick up my backpack again. I miss having a home. This apartment isn’t much and has been vandalized ten times over, but this is the first time I’ve felt anything close to safe in years. Kind of crazy considering how close I am to what’s wrong with the world. Hunters. Thieves. Murderers. Raiders. They tore holes in the world and built their cities inside. The danger is everywhere.
At this, I stand up. It would be foolish to sit for too long. Safety isn’t possible, and thinking so is dangerous. People either figure out how to survive, or they don’t. There are two kinds of survivors: those who remain faithful to themselves and those who give into the destruction and chaos. I refuse to abandon being decent to survive. The people I used to travel with believed the same. We got on for awhile fine, and then we got sloppy. I forgot the importance of listening to my gut feeling. I shook it away to make others happy. I was wrong to do that. There is no time to relax. Finding comfort in this world is a death sentence. I have to get inside those fences and save Peter.
I pull a ski mask over my face. If I fail and need to retreat temporarily, no one will know who I am. This is my big show. I will become one with the shadows. I will remain unseen.
I glare at my worn pack; then I slide it onto my back. I cast my eyes across the room. I stare at my own painted words, “Paige will survive this.” The closed door taunts me. I’m scared. There is no way around it. I suck in a heavy breath and charge forward.
Going down the stairs feels worlds different from going up them. When I walked up, I could hope to find somewhere to see. Coming down, I wish I didn’t see what I knew I would. Dread and fear run in my veins with my blood.
Voices come from outside. Raiders are close. I’ve heard they can smell fear. I press my back against the wall as soon I reach the ground floor. Faint headlights brighten up spots of the weathered road. My heart pounds in my chest.
I sneak along the wall, never taking my back from the scratchy concrete blocks. Breaks screech to a halt. Hurried footsteps splash through the rain puddles. A gun cocks on the other ride of the wall. Are they aware of me? Probably not. I haven’t made one sound. A door opens and closes. My ears are painting the picture. It’s hard to gauge when to step outside.
My heart was pounding in my chest. I could smell their sweat and smoked cigarettes. I held my lips in a tight, unmoving line. I would not make a sound. A distant banter of male voices got came from further down the road. More were coming. Gunshots fired near me. I bit down hard on my bottom lip. The salty taste of blood stung my senses.
The sound of the men close by running away, running toward the gunfire turned my knees into jelly; I was both relieved and terrified. That was my moment. I quickly took all of me and poked my head out of the doorway. My ears led me in the right direction again. Everyone was off. Something was going down. It didn’t matter. I wasn’t going to think about it. I stared at the rusty, white box truck. The back door had been ripped off. Chains on the lower-half kept the stolen goods from falling out the back. I ran on my toes, keeping my body tucked in. I slipped through the chains. Metal chains knocking into each other broke my silence streak. I don’t worry. Anyone would mistake that for the wind.
When I got inside the truck, I was hit with the smell of death. I swear I could even feel the suffering somehow. I shook off my fear and sadness. I couldn’t slip up. I was too close.
Voices lingered close by. I pressed my body into a small corner of the truck between a wide-screen television and some stacked trunks. The doors to the cab opened and closed. Voices were right on top of me.
“Made out well this trip,” a gruff voice said. The engine roared on.
“The last minute slaughtering was an adding bonus,” a female’s voice responded. More Raiders climbed on the truck, grappling the outside.
The truck was in motion, instantly speeding off. It bumped all around as it drove over a war-destroyed road. Voices talked through static over a radio of some kind. I was not able to make out much of they said. My heart continued to pound in my chest as we drove. A loud screech of the breaks and the truck stopped. The screaming of metal told me the gates were opening. My stomach twisted at the thought of being on the inside of the walls. The smell of blood was starting to make me dizzy. The truck started moving again. The urgency to get out of the truck and run away was alarmingly high. There was no turning back. The screaming metal sounded again, but this time, it was behind the truck. The truck sped up, took a sharp right, and then slammed to a stop. Guns fell from an open case. One slid to my foot. The trigger was touching the tip of my boot. I sucked in a heavy breath, bent over and scooped it up. As I tucked it into my skin and belt, opposite where I keep my knife, I pressed my body back into the corner. People with hurried and angry voices circled the truck, seemly all to be in no rush to unload it. They seemed preoccupied with something else. I kept hearing the phrase, Water War. I listened carefully to my surroundings, trying to judge the best I could.
The night had fallen hours ago. I was huddle now on the floor of the truck. At least five Raiders have been close by since we got inside; there hadn’t been a chance to step safely outside. My eyes were getting heavy, and my stomach was aching with emptiness. As I started to drift off, I realized how quiet it was. I carefully peeked around the trunks. The night sky was almost black, and I appeared to be completely alone. Finally.
I carefully stood up and climbed out of the corner. I maneuvered around the items, careful to not make a sound. The chains made the same noise they did the first time, only now I was little more worried about it. When I stepped outside the air was welcomed after so much time in the death-mobile. At least ten other trucks like the one I was in were lined up in a neat, orderly row. Crates and other boxes made isles of intimidating towers. They had taken so much. My stomach felt sick. Getting my bearings was hard. I was able to figure out where the studio in reference to where I am now? I couldn’t imagine it. Honestly, I was fried and so hungry. The rowdy drunken conversation came from the left. Raiders were partying after a long day of doing awful things. I decided it was wise to go in the opposite direction of the armed goons.
I skulked from one row of the boxes to another, taking a moment to look around before moving again. My heart probably won’t stop running into my chest while I’m inside these walls.
I heard the sound of footsteps. I stopped still and held my breath. The footsteps are right behind me. Just as I was about to turn around, a blade pressed against my neck.
“You forget you saw me and you’ll get to live. I don’t want to kill you, but considering you’re just raider scum, I’ll probably forgive myself. eventually.” My heart slowed down at the sound of a voice I’ve been missing so much.
“Peter?” I whispered.
“Holy shit,” he breathes and removes the knife from my throat.
I turn around. Tears fill my eyes. His green eyes beam at me. Bruises covered his once flawless face. I throw my arms around him. His arms tighten around my body. There in his arms, inside the walls with monsters, was the safest I felt since we got separated. “I knew I’d find you,” I said.
“I was on my way to find you,” he whispered in my ear.
I buried my face in his chest, choosing to forget everything else for just a minute. His face was in my hair, and my hands held onto his back.
“Shit.” His voice was desperate. Something hard touched the back of my head. The sound of a cocking gun rung in my ears.