Not the kind of running you do in gym, where you clench your fists and drag your sneakers, hoping the stitch in your side will subside so you can get out of the sun.
No. This was running that was fueled by raw terror. Like, "oh-my-god I'm going to die" terror.
No matter how many times this happened, I would never get used to this "oh-my-god I'm going to die" terror.
A simple rule to human beings, other then "don't kill each other" which is a rule this place also seemed to violate, is that we get used to things. We get used to waking up early, we get used to wearing the same shoes. Say, if you live in a rainy place, you get used to cold rain drizzling down your back and getting your socks wet. If you live on the moon, you get used to low gravity and probably crippling loneliness because you're the only person who wants to live on the moon.
Well, no matter how many times I run here, I will never get used to the feeling of terrified adrenaline pumping through my veins. Your muscles clench, your heart races like it's trying to jump out of your chest, and you fucking run. Your chest will heave and your throat will hurt like hell, you'll feel like someones rattling your bones, like that hazy light-headed feeling will jump out at you at the last moment and you'll collapse in a pile of sweaty despair. Even when that happens, and your enemy descends on you, and you still can't move, that horrible feeling still seeps through your powerless limbs.
Overall, not a very nice concept.
I happened to be running through the forest. Terror-running, pounding my sneakers on the overturned, trodden-on dirt. Mounds of leaves were kicked up from my feet, crackling under my sneakers. The white-hot light from above only barely trickled through the canopy of gnarled, almost-bare limbs, strangely hot for what I assumed was fall. Over and over again, I was plunged into shadows only to be greeted with streams of blinding light. My body was at that point where it was shaking, cold and hot at the same time, like a Hot Pocket half-cooked. (How I remembered this detail? I don't know.) Some vile mix of a metallic, blood-flavor and bile rising in my throat, salty sweat glistening on my cracked lips.
When a human body is in some form of shock and terror, it doesn't seem to notice the little things in it's effort to get away. Which might've been lucky for me, because nothing got in the way of me and my safe haven--the city.
Oh yeah, except one thing.
He was running, or speed-wobbling, as fast as his legs could carry him. Not very fast when you have a bullet lodged in your flesh and you happen to be bleeding out all over the forest floor. The gory sight still made my stomach lurch, as if I were on a boat out at sea, though I'd pull enough bullets and blades out of people that it didn't affect me as much.
Except for the liiiittttlleee fact that if he collapsed before we made it to our turf, I wouldn't have the heart to leave him behind (the many faults of human emotions. Side effects may include: death), so we would both be perfect pray for the forest kids.
So I did the only thing I could think of at the moment.
"SAM! GO, GO, GO!" I screeched. It wasn't very heroic, I know, but who the hell cares about heroic when you've got twenty middle-school boys with guns stampeding at you? Not me. I was scared, on the verge of panic, and NOT ready to die because Mr. I-Know-What-I'm-Doing decided it was a great idea to go into the forest turf, populated by the infamous forest boys.
I heard their footsteps behind me, sounding like a herd of angry wild animals. I could just imagine them now, dirt-smudged faces twisted with the kind of blood-thirstiness you don't want to see in the eyes of a thirteen year old boy. Especially when all twenty of them had guns in their waving, flailing arms and bullets strapped to their (probably bare) chests.
Just when I was sure Sam was going to collapse (and I was silently cursing myself for dropping my OWN gun on the way here, but not praying to god because surviving this place probably just means I'm going to hell anyway), the trees parted like the wardrobe into Narnia...if Narnia was the barren wasteland of a city, occupied only by the towering rusty skeletons of buildings and crumbling, powdery cement walls that once held life. Now, they only held the few rogue kids and the city kids.
"GO!" I screeched again, but this time it sounded more like a croak as it left my mouth, my blood-and-bile speckled spit spraying (ew) the forest floor.
As we approached the cities cracked asphalt road, wavering in the unnatural heat, a bullet zipped past my head. It dug itself deep into the trunk of a tree, the bark peeling back as sawdust exploded like snow as I ran by it.
Thoughts like 'Holy shit, that tree could have been me' and 'How can a bullet even do that to a tree??' raced through my mind in a split second, but what I focused on was the road. The city.
Then our feet hit asphalt, and though it sent spikes of pain up both leg, it was a relief, because the forest boys were all about "honoring the rules" and BS. That's not what they were saying when we were actually in middle school, and they called kids retards and homophobic slurs.
(Pop quiz: What's worse? Middle school or waking up in an abandoned version of your own world supposedly to fight your classmates to the death? We'll never know.)
One hand clamped on Sam's limp, spaghetti-noodle arm, I dragged him into the nearest enclosure. A roofless, crumbling, one-story building. The minute the air stilled, Sam turned and proceeded to dispose of whatever canned goods were left in his stomach. I could only drop to the floor, shivering as sweat drizzled down both freckled, sunburned sides of my face.
Once Sam was done, he collapsed beside me in a bony tangle of blood and puke.
"You're a mess," I managed to push out, licking my lips even though it didn't work. He didn't answer, both hands pressed hard against the wound on his leg. His head was tilted down, so all I could see was the damp, greasy tangle of white-blond hair on his head, and all I could hear was heavy breathing.
"Let me see."
I pried his fingers off, and the sharp intake of breath it brought made me hack and cough alarmingly. His bone shone bright white beneath the damaged, bloodied flesh. I had seen bad wounds. I'd seen Mary Jensen get a finger sliced right off and Jackie Brown get one big gash across his pale, freckly face.
I had never, ever seen bone.
It was strange because, well, the human is a strange thing. WE are strange things, and we react to things strangely. Oddly. For instance, seeing Sam's white, white bone and his glazed, unfocused eyes and his lips coated in crimson, hurt more then getting a sharp stick stabbed into my thigh by fourteen-year-old football player Ethan Williams. That left a scar, too. I didn't know WHY it hurt, but I knew why it hurt to get a sharp object inserted into my leg which seemed to hurt less.
"Holy crap," was all I managed to utter, because of course, my words fail me at the best of times. I ripped my sleeve off and the bottom of my pants leg, messily tying them together and wrapping them around the leg. Both of us knew that the thin cloth wasn't going to stop blood flow. That there wasn't enough medicine in whatever drug store we could find that hadn't been ransacked by rogue kids. That no good bandage and no good medicine means too much blood loss and infection.
And it was an unspoken and grim concept that wavered between the both of us.
"You'll be fine," I lied. A straight-up white lie. "Let's go find cover. Maybe we have medicine left."
He then spoke, his glassy eyes blinking at me, his tongue trailing his blood-stained and chapped bottom lip. "What's the point, Jae..."
It wasn't spoken like a question. It was spoken like a decision.
"Don't," I replied. "Don't do this. It'll be fine." My voice was full of hollow reassurance even to my own ears. It was denial. I was never good with this kind of thing. Or anything, really.
"One minute we're sitting in class and the next the world is exploding. I remember it, Jae, I remember...all of it. It was like the world was..falling apart. You remember, don't you?" His voice trembled, sounding slightly insane, like the hot, frothy top of a cup of tea ready to boil over. "You remember? We died."
Unfortunately, I did remember. I remembered everything. I had been sitting at my lop-sided desk, doodling in the corners of my math spiral. I remembered the way the sunlight shone down on Eddy McGrew's shiny red hair, the way a buzzing fly kept hitting the window, and how my sneakers had been half-off. The tick-tocking of the clock had been going on for what seemed like hours, while the teacher's voice droned on. I remember the sound of her high-heels screeching across the tile floors.
Then the smell of smoke. It oozed in like a slime monster from an R.L Stein book. Sleepy heads rose as the pungent smell seeped into the boring, stuffy air, noses raised and sniffing. The teacher stopped, her thin purple-red lips curling down.
"What is that?" She snapped, mad that some mysterious smell had interrupted her algebra lesson. "Someone go out in the hall and see." She pointed a single claw-like fingernail at Betty Allister, who groaned inwardly and stood up, purposely dragging her chair against the ground and flipping her bleached blonde hair behind her. Typical.
I had looked past Zu and Lilly, who were whispering and holding holding hands under their desks, to Sam. He looked so innocent when I look back, with his curly white hair and his small, questioning smile, showing off his crooked teeth.
You smell it, too? I mouthed.
He nodded and shrugged, just as Betty came in, an annoyed look on her face.
She never finished, because that's when the world blew up. Obliterated. Imploded, exploded, collapsed.
It looked like a burnt-up reel, like the movie kind, when it gets caught and the picture crackles and disintegrates. Except it hurt. It was like somebody shoved firecrackers down my throat and they had blown up inside me, sparking and popping and sending shocks all up and down my arms and legs. I was swallowing fire, the taste of something horrible and hot tinging my lips and digging into my tongue.
Then...nothing. Emptiness. We HAD died. What else could explain that feeling?
"You believe me," Sam said, leaning forward so his puke-tinted breath puffed in my face. "I know you do. We died, and now we're being picked off like rats in a sick, twisted lab. Where do we go, Jae?! Where are we?"
"I don't know," I replied, trying to keep my voice calm while in reality his words were stirring something in my stomach. I tried to relax my tense muscles, stretching and wishing the aching from the running would go away. It never did. "It doesn't matter, okay? We'll let everyone die off or whatever, and see what happens next, okay? The two of us." This time, my voice wasn't hollow, it was real. Because that's what I wanted.
Except Sam's eyes were hollow. He was standing less then a foot away, his hands clenched so his knuckles turned slick and white. "We can't. You know we can't." He swallowed. "This is hell."
I didn't say anything. I just listened.
"No." His voice was quiet, rough, wet with tears and blood. Tears. They were streaming silently down his cheeks, leaving slug-trail streaks in the dirt. "Not hell. If this was hell, we wouldn't be able to die. We would be trapped. This is...something else." His voice was guttural, strange and strangled. I didn't like it.
I was quiet. Maybe he was loosing his mind, or maybe I was. It certainly seemed like it to me. We were just two kids, covered in Walgreens first-aid kit bandages and dirt. If someone were to look at us, they would have no idea what we got through to get here. You can't read someones story by looking at their face, or at least, I don't think you can. Funny how in this situation my brain decides to start thinking of something random like this. I've never understood my own brain.
"Then where are we?"
Sam's eyes glinted, like those of a cat ready to pounce on some poor, unsuspecting bird, happily flapping away in it's birdbath. Where did Sam go? He's not in those eyes anymore. He's not this person anymore. I've seen people snap, but Sam wasn't snapping. He was bending, more and more until he was ready to break. He still did those little things he always did, like scratch the back of his ear when he was nervous and bite his lip when he blushed. But slowly, his eyes were fading until they weren't Sam's anymore.
Have you ever heard the term someones eyes are windows to the soul?
I blinked at him, but the word didn't register.
"Alright, now you've officially gone crazy, Sam. Purgatory? I know none of this is exactly believable but.." My voice faded because the look on his face showed me he was being completely dead serious. Scary-serious.
His hand slipped into his belt, opening the sagging, patched leather bag attached to it. I had forgotten it was there, a bag with a tiny little pocket knife. (In his defensive, a tiny pocket knife isn't going to help us when we're being chased by kids with guns, but I digress.) He fingered it in his hands. An aura seemed to waver on it, held gingerly between us, but maybe it was just the hot sunlight creating mirages or my water-deprived body tricking me.
A tiny little dark part of my mind (which I thought had probably been quickly growing since the first death I saw in this place) told me he was going to kill me, but every other part of my body told me No. Some people can't change, and others can, but a person can't change enough to be able to kill their best friend.
Great, I thought, Now I'm getting all scared and sentimental.
"Don't worry," Sam said, as if reading my mind. He always seemed to be able to do that. "I'd never kill you. Remember our oath?" The knife danced in his hands. "I guess we never imagined we would get this far...In this situation." I remembered back to that day, just two six-year-olds in a tiny crooked treehouse as the rain pattered on the umbrella of leaves cupped around us, pinky fingers hooked as we sat cross-legged on patched patio pillows. I blink, and the vision is blown away, a distant memory.
"You have to do something for me, Jae."
I said okay.
"You have to promise you won't say no. Please."
I looked in his eyes and promised.
His hand slipped into mine, and when it withdrew, the nauseating warm side of the pocket knife pressed against my palm. It was open, the tip gleaming. I looked back up at him, took it in, and for a moment he was the little kid sitting in that treehouse with a gap-tooth smile and trusting eyes. But those eyes were no longer trusting, now, they were unreadable.
He took a deep breath.
[A/N Heyo! So, I worked on this on and off for awhile, so it might not be very good or consistent, but I worked hard on it and personally, I'm proud of it. Hope you enjoy! ^^]