“What if we don’t make it?” Lauren’s voice was thin and crackling with the exhaustion we were all feeling, but it carried enough for most of the heads of our group to whip around in her direction; a few faces projected horror, but just as many reflected the terrified resignation in Lauren’s question.
For some reason she was looking at me. Like as if I would have some clue, just because I was the one who’d had a map of the area shoved in the pocket behind the seat in my car. The joys of being a packet who rarely cleaned, I’d actually had something still handing kicking around after the cell nets died and electrical systems went down, and one by one people’s mobile and tablet batteries wore out – not that the GPS was still working by then anyway.
“We’re all together, and it’s not that much farther. We’re GOING to make it, Lauren,” I growled, hating having to be the bitchy one, but the last thing we needed was for this to turn into some stupid What If discussion instead of all of us just continuing to haul ass. To their credit, nobody seemed interested in slowing down. As if anybody would want to, considering the things slouching and shuffling and burbling along behind us.
“But we’ve been walking for days!” she complained, and god help me I could have smacked her right there, if it hadn’t meant stopping and turning around. Every step had to be a step in the right direction, because my knee was a white-hot ball of agony from walking so much so suddenly, and my lower back was a study in strained muscles. I never did get into the whole hiking and backpacking thing as a kid, which is too bad. It’d be handy now to know how to balance what I was carrying a little better.
“Look – this sucks. You hurt, I hurt, we ALL hurt,” I snarled, sneakered feet trudging along across the grassy meadow that blanketed the hillside we were half-climbing, half-rounding. “But this is the one plan we’ve got right now, and the only alternative I can think of is to just stop and let them catch us.”
“Why don’t we?”
In spite of knowing better, my weary stride faltered, and I stopped, waiting for her to catch up to me before forcing my screaming thighs to lift my legs back into motion. “If you want to be a hot meal, fine. Hand off your bags and just sit your ass down. But I am not fucking done, and I’m not giving up. I never figured you for a quitter, Lauren.”
A few of the others had slowed or even halted nearby to listen to the exchange, and my stomach twisted. Keep walking, just keep walking…
“No, I suppose you didn’t,” she said flatly, and with a quirk at the corner of her mouth that was enigmatic, very nearly a smile. “You always DID want people to have your best qualities in them. Lead on,” she gestured, and we fell into step, some of the others trailing ahead of us.
According to the map it was just over the hill, but I didn’t even have it in me to try to get up in front, to make sure. All I could do was put a foot in front of a foot, and listen to what sounds might float back. Please, let it be there. Please let it be standing. Please, please.
I could see the wrought iron first, as I came over the crest of the hill, the pointed, fleur de lis tips of it thrust toward the sky atop the thick cement wall more than twice my own height – and there, where the old dirt road had wound up toward it from the valley, one side of the big double gate still stood open, men with fantastically large looking guns standing on either side of it, watching our silent company trudge through.
I slowed to a halt to watch everyone coming round and through, checking faces, counting heads, until there was nobody left but me, and one of the soldiers gave me a questioning look. “We’re the last ones. Nothing human left, now.”
“Right then. Let’s close this up.” I dragged my feet through the gate and turned to watch it getting pulled shut, the huge heavy slabs moving ponderously across the dirt; someone came forward with chains to loop through the metalwork at the top, and someone else had a bucket of mortar all ready to start slapping into the joins, reinforcing them.
We’d made it out – and nothing was going to follow us.
Funny. I’d never thought of guns as safety.
This was written as part of Days of Grey, a daily writing project in which anyone can participate. Just go follow the page. A prompt image will be posted to it each day throughout the month of February, meant to inspire bright, warm, happy fictions – or poetry, haikus, memoir essays, visual poetry – anything to get the mind focused on warmth and light and joy.
The Day Two image prompt comes from images_improbables on Flickr, via a Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs Creative Commons license.http://www.flickr.com/photos/images_improbables/6748409757/
If you repost the photo, please keep the attribution notice intact.