At the hands of the genius and deranged, do you have what it takes to survive?
Five years have passed since I entered the community. I can still remember sitting in the courtyard with my younger sister, enjoying our lunch, when the chaos began. Soldiers in strange uniforms suddenly stood in the middle of town, almost like they just appeared out of thin air. We still don’t know if they were a part of the government, or if they were against it, but the country I once knew is gone.
I remember our laughs were so loud we almost didn’t notice, the screams melded in with the laughter of children and the crying babies. Soon, however, the blood-curdling screams were all we heard. The handlers stood in the grass with black coats flowing behind them, holding onto leashes that connected to animals I’d never seen before. The one thing I have been able to learn is that wherever these people came from, they had been planning this moment for over a decade, hiding away in a lab and creating new vicious creatures. On this day, sprinting around the park was a lion with what seemed like bulletproof skin. At the end of one chained leash stood a small wolf-like creature with the wings of a very large eagle. They would let this creature soar through the sky, swooping down to grab those who escaped.
We ran until we couldn’t hear the screaming anymore, overhead more creatures flew, and smoke filled the sky. From that point on we were constantly on the run, hiding until we finally found a town that we thought would be safe, but there too were people who were scared and desperate. The soldiers of the takeover were leaving torches in various places, allowing those who chose to get involved to light anything and anyone on fire. These fires were impossible to put out, another one of their experiments.
Rabbis were in the streets lighting Buddhists on fire, Priests set fire to mosques, Imams set fires to atheists, and soldiers set fire to everyone. We took a break and sat against a wall in the center of a new town when an older man came across our path. Still trying to catch my breath, I turned to see the man glaring down at me, slowly walking towards me with what seemed like a regular lighter. Before I had a moment to process what was happening, he quickly bent down and lit my shoe on fire. I tried to stomp it out but it only made the flame grow larger. I quickly ripped off the sneaker and threw it at the flagpole directly in front of me, within moments the ropes were ablaze, as was the grass surrounding it. Once again we were on the run, people screamed as fires continued to pop up around us. Some of the fires were houses, stores, and parks, most of the flames were connected to people frantically trying to extinguish their clothes, creating more fires as they ran. Eventually, the person would stop running and would scream on the ground until the flames engulfed their lungs, others, if they were lucky, would be found by an animal that looked like a giant echidna. Echidnas have a natural ability to withstand wildfires, these mutated versions were able to pinpoint the heart of the burning human, and stab them with one of their quills, putting them out of their misery.
About a week after this incident, my sister and I came across a small shoe store and ran inside to hide, hoping to find replacements that could help get us farther. We walked into the store and were immediately met with knives held by two large men, but they couldn’t have been much older than us.
“We don’t accept looters here, and we’ve already taken down one fire soldier, what’s two more.” The man spat on the ground and held his knife closer to my neck, the younger man stood behind him, slightly cowering while still holding out his knife.
I held my hands in the air, holding out the only money I had in my pocket. “Please,” I whimpered, “We aren’t looters, and I have money,” I pointed down to my feet, “someone lit my shoes on fire, we won’t make it much further like this.”
He looked down at my bleeding feet, and then back up at my sister, who was quietly crying behind me. He lowered his knife and flipped it around so the handle was now facing us, “Do you know how to use this properly?” He asked my sister.
“Uhm, y-yes, I can use it.” She whimpered.
“Good, stay here with Michael, watch the door, and don’t let anyone in.” He handed her the knife and turned to face me, “You might as well throw the money away, there’s no use for it anymore. We’ll find you a pair and get you cleaned up, and then you need to leave.”
He walked me to the back of the store, having me take a seat on a bench while he continued through a door. “What’s your size?” He yelled.
“7.5!” I yelled back.
He soon came back with a box in one hand and a rag and bottle of alcohol in the other.
“You’re lucky, these shoes are normally $200. They should get you far enough, and I can give you a backpack with backup pairs, not like we’ll be using them.”
He bent down to pour alcohol on my wounds, dabbing away the blood as I winced in pain. “Emily,” I said.
“My name is Emily, the girl you left at the door is my sister Katie.”
He took in a deep breath before moving on to the next foot, “Scott, Michael is my brother.”
“Thank you, for helping me...and if you’re serious about the extra shoes, Katie wears a 6.”
He quickly stood up and threw a pair of socks at me, “Put on the shoes and tell me how they feel, I’ll pack two bags for you, and then you need to go.”
Scott walked back behind the door and I quickly threw on the trail sneakers he left me. They were perfect for any terrain we might meet, but I wasn’t sure they’d hold up against these fires. As I stood up I heard a screech from the front of the store.
“Emily!” My sister yelled. Scott ran out of the back and quickly threw back the curtains on the window in front of us. Mutated creatures ran through the streets, a small elephant-like creature threw people into buildings, fires lined the streets, and they were only getting closer to the store the longer we stood there.
“Katie, come here!” I yelled. She and Michael ran towards the back of the store and I quickly grabbed the knife from her, handing it back to Scott.
“There’s another door back here,” he said, “you can leave through there.” He threw the bags with shoes at us as we moved towards the door. “Here,” he said holding out the knife, “we’ll be fine with just one and we’ve got other tools to use. You’ll need this.”
I hesitated before finally blurting out, “Come with us.”
Scott looked shocked and glanced back at Michael, who was clearly terrified. “We don’t know you, and we’ve been fine by ourselves.”
The screams and growls were getting louder. “If you stay here, you will die!” I yelled.
“If we leave we will still die!” He yelled back.
“Well!... You can die now or die later...which one is it!”
He looked around the store once more before murmuring, “Shit...give me a second.” He grabbed a bag from under the register, “I only have a small supply of food and water in here.”
“It’s fine,” I said, “we’ve made it this far living off what we can find, it’ll be okay, but we have to go now!”
Katie threw open the door and the four of us ran out and into the woods, we made it up a hill and looked back at the town. The whole area was engulfed in flames, including the shoe store.
“Come on,” I said, “we have to hide quickly. Just stay with us okay? We can help you stay alive.”
Scott and Michael nodded as we headed out looking for places to hide, being sure to leave no trails and hiding our scent as best we could.
After a couple of weeks, we came across a town that had already been burnt down. It was empty so we cautiously made our way through, hoping to find food, weapons, tools, anything we could use to survive just a little longer.
As we walked through the town, out of the corner of my eye I spotted a clean piece of paper taped to a metal pole, it was clearly placed after the fire and hasn’t been touched since. I looked around to see if the person who put it there was lurking somewhere, but if they were, I wasn’t able to see them.
I pulled it off the pole and read aloud to the group: “If you are reading this, you clearly have a knack for survival. If you think you have what it takes to live in this new world and contribute to our new society, head east to the Newton warehouse, and inside you will find a group of us waiting. If you can make it inside you will find food, water, beds, and showers, do not fear if no one is there, we pick up survivors once a week and will be there soon. If you can make it onto the bus, you will be able to live out your days in a new community, free from harm.”
I looked up to see Katie’s eyes full of tears, Scott looked pensive and lost in thought, and Michael seemed to be having a panic attack.
“Well,” I said, “We obviously have to go!”
“What if it’s a trap!” Michael yelled, “They said if you get inside if you get on the bus. What if this is just some challenge and we have to fight? What if they set us on fire the second we walk in!”
“Michael!” Scott screamed, “You have to calm down...Emily is right. I’m scared okay, I promise I’m just as scared as you...but if we don’t try we’ll never know. If we stay out here...there’s only so much we can do before we starve or one of those creatures finds us. We have to go.”
Scott and I made eye contact, I let out a small sigh and whispered a thank you. With one last deep breath, we all nodded in agreement and headed east.
It was a two-day walk, but finally, we were able to see the warehouse. We swiftly and quietly made our way down, checking our surroundings after every step. We ran into the front doors and walked through the empty hallways until we were able to hear the light sounds of voices, and laughter.
“We made it,” I sighed, tears pricking the corners of my eyes. The group cautiously smiled and we continued toward the voices, just as we were about to reach the doorway a large cat sprang out from a room. It guided Michael and Katie away from us, growling and swatting at them with its claws.
“Katie!” “Michael!” We screamed. Scott and I lunged toward our siblings but were quickly stopped by an unknown figure.
“Stop! Stop!” The man yelled. “You can’t help them! If you try to bring them in the cat will kill you all. He chooses who gets to stay, but he won’t hurt them. He guides them back to the woods, they’ll have to fend for themselves, but they can’t get on the bus. If they're lucky, they'll find another area and get on a bus there.” He led Scott and me into the room and showed us to the showers. “You should get cleaned up, I’ve been here five days, so the bus will be here within the next two.”
The man threw two towels onto the floor and left us there to weep. Scott and I sat on the floor dumbfounded and hysterical, “You should have left us alone! We would have been fine at the store!” Scott yelled.
“You would have died!”
“What do you think is going to happen to them huh?! Does this honestly make you happy? We survive while our younger siblings try to live in the woods?”
“Of course not! But what other choice do we have?”
I wrapped Scott into my arms and we cried into each other until there were no more tears, we sat on the floor numb for another 10 minutes before finally standing. We went to our respective show stalls and eventually made our way to a room full of beds. There were clothes laid out for us, and a bowl full of fruit, bread, and bottles of water.
We were only there for about 12 hours before the bus came, it took us to a farm where we’ve lived now for five years.
We were given a house and set of crops we have to maintain; we are given an envelope weekly filled with money that we are allowed to use in the local markets for anything we want or need, within reason. We are allowed to stay alive if we keep the crops flourishing, have children, and never try to escape. At first, it was hard, but after a year we got to know the people around us, and the occasional bouts of loneliness have given us two kids, with another on the way. The keepers love us, and most of the forced couples have only had one child, the fact that we have had more has given us a certain status level, allowing for a bump in our weekly pay.
I was preparing dinner today when Scott came in from the market, he gave me a kiss on the cheek and dropped a heart-shaped locket into my hand.
“Where did this come from?” I asked, “None of the market vendors sell jewelry like this.”
“Mark gave it to me,” he said with a somber look, “Makayla...she’s been talking about fleeing and the keepers got wind of it. When he got home yesterday...this was sitting on top of a pile of ash.” He looked down at the locket as a small tear rolled down his cheek.
“What’s going to happen to him?”
Scott quickly stiffened as our sons walked into the kitchen, “Daddy, are you okay?” Michael, our 4-year-old, asked.
“Yes, daddy is okay.” He turned back to me, “There are a couple of women in town that have...lost their husbands. They’re all in the same boat...Mark is the only single man right now so he’ll be okay, he’ll have a new match...but the other two women...I’m not sure what their assignments will be.”
I grabbed the locket and placed it around my neck, “I’ll wear it,” I said, “a reminder of why we follow the rules.”
Scott took a deep breath in and picked up our youngest, “Well then, you should finish dinner, the keepers will be here soon to check on us.”
“Understood,” I whispered. “Don’t forget, tomorrow they will be bringing me in to check the gender of the baby. If it’s a girl...they’ll give us a new house, and a new job assignment.”
Scott smiled as he placed a hand on my stomach, “Let’s hope for a Katie then.”
I sighed as I placed my hand over his, “For Katie.”
About the Creator
Writing articles about mental health, education, astrology, and overall life. Writing fiction stories about whatever comes to mind! When I'm not writing you can find me crying about all the animals I can't adopt.
Great concept! Dystopian stories I find fascinating. You could even expand it to novella length if you wanted.