Sera: I was running. Running as fast as my feet could carry me, the stones of the ground slippery and dangerous under my worn sneakers. I could hear the truck somewhere off in the distance, towing the cart behind it like some twisted float in a town parade. It was getting closer. I heard the shot. Sprawled out on the ground, the stone felt cool against my face.
Thom: We heard the shot through the ground. Another had probably died. It wasn’t that big of a deal. These kinds of things happened every day. I had a weird feeling about this one though. The van didn’t come to collect them. They thought the person was dead. They were probably right.
“We should go save them if we can,” I said.
“Why? They’ll just die anyway,” Rian said irritably.
“Not necessarily,” I snapped back at him. I thought about the round scar by my left shoulder.
“Fine, we’ll try to help them,” Rian gave in.
I yelled for Marc to come. We were taking a trip upstairs. When he came we climbed up the ladder and slid away the grate. There were no vehicles around.
I climbed out, followed by Marc and Rian. From here I could see the person who’d been shot. It was a girl, off to my right. She was lying on her stomach in a pool of her own blood. Her dark, black hair lay around her.
She was barely conscious; I could hear her faintly moaning. I walked over to her. There was a hole in her back, next to her right shoulder blade. I leaned down and gently rolled her onto her left side. She whimpered quietly. Putting my arms around her lower back and behind her knees, I scooped her up.
I walked to the hole as quickly as I could without jostling her. Marc and Rian hurried back underground. I lowered her into the hole ahead of me. Rian took her from me. Blood clung to her gray tank top and worn-out blue jeans. I climbed down the ladder. She was laid on her stomach on the floor.
“I need to get the bullet out,” Marc said. “Go get the anesthesia Rian.” Rian left for a moment, coming back with our small supply of anesthesia. He set it beside her and untangled the mask and wires.
Marc took the mask from Rian and rested it around the girl’s nose and mouth. She whimpered softly and her eyelids fluttered. A tear trickled down her face. Then she was unconscious.
Sera: I could see darkness through my eyelids, which seemed weird. How was I supposed to go toward the light when there wasn’t any? Then it hit me. A shooting pain racked my body. It was coming from my back.
As soon as I opened my eyes a hand clamped over my mouth. I panicked and tried to get away from it. The movement made my back sting worse. The hand stayed there. I felt salty tears run down my cheeks.
The hand cautiously moved away. I stayed still and didn’t make a sound. My eyes adjusted to the darkness. There were two guys standing there looking at me. Another was crouched down next to me, the one who’d put his hand over my mouth. They were all about the same age, a few years older then me.
One of the guys leaned forward and gave me a shot in the arm. I panicked again and opened my mouth to scream. The guy crouched down beside me put his hand over my mouth again. The pain started to subside in my back. The shot must have been some sort of pain reliever. I relaxed a little bit.
“Don’t scream,” the one at my side said. He slowly moved his hand away.
“Who are you?” I managed to say. My voice sounded weird since I hadn’t talked in a few days.
“I’m Thom,” the one beside me said,” that’s Rian and Marc.” Marc was the one who’d given me the shot. “Who are you?” he asked.
I just stared at him; nobody had asked me that in a long time. “I’m Sera,” I finally said.
Thom: From the second I’d seen her I’d been shocked at how beautiful she was. Even her name was pretty. Sera. She was fragile and delicate. She also needed to eat something. When I picked her up in the street she was incredibly light; I could feel her ribs through her shirt.
“You need to eat something,” I said to her.
“Okay,” she said weakly. She started to stand up and stumbled. I held her left arm to steady her. She experimentally moved around her right arm. At a certain point she cringed.
“Come on,” I said. I wrapped my arm around her waist as she tipped again. She put her good arm around me.
Rian came out with a bowl of Spaghetti-O’s. Sera gasped and stared at the food. She looked like she hadn’t seen food in years. Rian set the food on the kitchen table. I led Sera over to it and pulled out a chair for her.
“Rian likes to cook,” I explained. “Oh, and Marc was pre-med in college. That’s how he knew how to get the bullet out and bandage you up.” She nodded and plunged her spoon into the bowl.
Sera: “She should stay in my room,” Thom said slyly. “Besides there’s already the two of you in your room. It’s just me in my room. There’s still an extra bed.” He smiled at me. It gave me a weird feeling. I smiled back at him. He looked away.
“Fine,” Marc said. He sighed and looked away. Rian and he looked disappointed. I couldn’t see why; I’m nothing special.
That night I sat up in the middle of my bed, my arms wrapped around my bent knees. I rocked back and forth a little bit, then I started crying. I didn’t have any pajamas so I was just wearing my underwear, which made me kinda chilly.
Thom woke up in his bed across the room. He sat up in bed and walked over to sit by me. He sat on my left side. He was just wearing his boxers and a t-shirt.
“I’m sorry I woke you up. I didn’t mean to,” I said. I turned away from him, feeling terribly embarrassed.
“It’s okay,” he said, taking my chin in his thumb and index finger. He turned my head toward him. I looked up into his deep brown eyes. “Why are you crying?” he asked, concerned.
“I’m a horrible person. I shouldn’t have lived. The bullet should have killed me,” I said angrily.
“You’re not a horrible person. You would have been a horrible person if you’d died though,” he said coolly.
“Why?” I asked, confused.
“Then you wouldn’t have come to be with me.” He smiled again. I blushed and looked away. Suddenly he looked serious again. “Something similar happened to me, you know.”
“What do you mean?” I asked. He took his shirt off and pointed at a red circle by his left shoulder.
“I took a .45, same as you.” He smiled, but he looked troubled.
“Does that have something to do with why Rian’s so bitter?” I asked as I stopped crying.
“You noticed that, huh?”
“Yeah.” I was a little shocked by how forward I’d been. Thom made me feel comfortable. He wrapped his arm around my waist again and I leaned into him.
“It happened four months ago. I was up in a store stealing food with Rian and his little brother, Arik. Marc had stayed behind. One of the vans was coming by so we all hid. The people in the van must have seen us though. They barged into the store. We started running. Arik was the slowest. They shot him in the neck. They got me as I was running, just barely missed my heart. Rian hasn’t been the same since.” He sighed. “I think you took it better than I did.”
“What?” I asked.
“The bullet,” he said it like it was obvious. He tightened his grip around me. I was getting tired. I relaxed and slumped onto him. He could tell I was going to fall asleep so he laid me gently on the bed. On my left side.
Thom: In the morning I left Sera asleep. A couple of hours later I went back in to check on her. She was still asleep. She would need more painkillers though so I woke her up. She looked up at me and smiled.
We went and ate breakfast; Rian and Marc had already eaten. After that we went back to our bedroom.
Rian had dropped off the clothes; he was our best stealer. That morning he’d gotten up early and stolen Sera some new clothes since her old ones were bloodstained almost beyond recognition. She was shocked by the gift. She quickly put on some of the new clothes. Her choices were a red t-shirt and black jeans. They made her look even skinnier than she did before.
She looked up at me and suddenly hugged me. The embrace shocked me. I wasn’t used to this sort of behavior, especially from her. She seemed more to herself. She released me from the surprising show of affection.
We looked at each other. In a moment of confusion, yet somehow total understanding, we looked into each other’s eyes. Instinctively we both leaned toward each other at the exact same time. Our lips touched gently and sweetly. We backed away from each other, then leaned forward and kissed again. Sera smiled at me. I smiled back.
I reached my hand toward hers. Our fingers locked together. We walked back out to the main room.
Sera: I was getting used to living underground. It’d been almost three months since the shooting. My wound still hurt, it would probably never stop. Thom’s never did.
In the middle of the night I suddenly woke up. I’d been having a nightmare, but as soon as I woke up I forgot what it was about. Since I was awake I decided to get a snack. I stood up, careful not to wake Thom, and walked to the kitchen.
When I got there Rian was sitting at the table. He still made me kind of nervous. I walked to a cabinet and grabbed some cereal.
“You’re up early,” Rian said solemnly.
“So are you,” I pointed out.
“Not really. I get up this early every morning.” He said it very matter-of-factly. I just nodded. I decided to take a chance.
“Rian, what exactly happened to the world? You’re a little bit older than me. You’d remember better.” I said it cautiously and carefully. He turned a bright shade of red. He briskly stood up and stormed away.
I sat in my chair, a little bit shocked. I wasn’t sure how he’d take my question, but I didn’t think it would be that bad. As I was sitting there, Marc came in. He sat in the chair next to me, studied me for a second, then reached out and gently touched my hand.
“You didn’t do anything wrong. Rian’s just sensitive about the subject,” he said. He smiled at me. He looked so boyish. He looked at me for a second, then he made his decision. “I’ll tell you what happened if you want to know.”
“Okay, tell me,” I muttered. His hand moved away.
“I’m the youngest of us. I was only thirteen when it happened, but I’ll tell you what I know.
“Almost fourteen years ago, Algur Nathern came into power. He found followers and trained them. A few months later there was genocide of all adults who were against Nathern. He captured almost all of the country’s children. Some got away, but not many. The others were brainwashed and follow Nathern in all things. That’s all I know.” He looked sad. “My brother’s one of them.”
“One of what?” I asked.
“His followers. He’s two years older than me. He did it willingly.” Marc’s eyes grew cold and distant. He abruptly stood up. “Go back to bed,” he said to me as he walked away.