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Memoirs From the End of the World
I don’t recommend spending the night clinging to the underside of a bridge.
It seemed like I was down there for hours while the patrol searched the area for remains. Even after the flashlight beams disappeared and I couldn’t hear them chatting, I was still afraid to move. It wasn’t until I saw hints of sunlight on the horizon that I realized I waited too long. If they’d placed a watch on the bridge, I would’ve stood a better chance with the darkness on my side.
The water below looked just as dangerous in the early morning light. My arms hurt from the aerial gymnastics that got me to safety in the first place. My palms were split from where the metal dug into my skin, so I couldn’t open them all the way without it feeling like I was being cut all over again.
Let’s face it. My plan was insane. Getting there was impossible enough, but I had no idea how in the world I was going to get back to solid ground. When I thought about climbing back the way I came, I shivered.
The movies I watched with my brother were misleading. This was the point where the hero, who’d already been wounded in a way that should have been instantly fatal, miraculously musters the strength to swing their way back onto the bridge and karate chops twenty armed assailants.
Even in peak physical condition, I didn’t have the raw strength to pull that off. I guess that was the advantage of being a Hollywood actor with special effects teams to back you up. You could get paid to look like a god. There in the real world, clinging to that beam like a scared animal, I found myself hating those false images. I resented those actors even more when I remembered they lived far beyond the borders of the reservation and were still making millions to look amazing. I could have used a little of that magic.
Okay, Romero, you know I made it back safely. How else would I be writing in you, after all? Let me tell you, it was a close thing. Looking around, I was encouraged that the understructure was as extensive as it was. In theory, I should have been able to carefully crawl my way along the slanting beams until they came out above dry land. I’d have to drop from there.
The moment I started to crawl, I realized just how stiff my muscles were. The cold wasn’t helping, though the numbness that settled in overnight courtesy of the chilling winds at least dulled the pain. In spite of the damage done to my hands, which caused them to curl uselessly in on themselves, I shimmied along. I shimmied up, made a dicey transition around a vertical support before shimmying down along another beam. The downward slope got my heart racing as I tried not to slide too fast along the damp metal surface. Then I did it all over again.
When I finally looked down and saw dirt instead of a curtain of water, I sighed. The drop from that point was only about ten feet. I took one last look around to make sure there weren’t any patrols closing in on me. Then, sucking in my breath as if it could be my last, I let go.
The ground was even harder than it looked. When I landed on my back, the world exploded with stars. Though the fall knocked the wind out of me, I rolled to my knees and forced myself to move. It was far too dangerous to wait around.
Rule #12: If a patrol follows you, never assume you lost them. They know how to hide just as well as you do.
Yes, I’m making more rules now, and I know what you want to say, Romero. When I helped Alyx and Ollie, I broke most of my rules. Why should I bother to write any more of them? Well, rules are supposed to be flexible. That doesn’t make them invaluable.
Rule #13: Inflexibility can get people killed.
I limped along, avoiding streets as I made my way toward the rendezvous point. There was no hope of getting warm, though the trees and houses mercifully blocked the wind as I went. My stomach growled, and my mouth was horribly dry. That’s kind of funny considering how damp my clothes were.
I didn’t see a single soul on my route. When I finally saw the drugstore, it struck me how much had changed. It had been months since I last stood on that particular street. There were a couple reasons for that. It violated my rule about sticking too close to the familiar. My grandma lived less than a block away, and I used to visit her all the time. Then, when the overlords instituted their cleansing programs to get rid of older people with medical issues, she disappeared. We were never told whether those people were shipped out or killed.
Grandma Luci was one of them, and it hurts that I’ll never know what happened to her. That’s the real reason why I never come back.
The front windows of the drugstore were broken out. Shards of glass crunched under my feet as I approached. I didn’t see any signs of life at all inside.
Then Alyx crashed into me from the side. I jumped, almost sure something had to be wrong. When I realized that his arms were around me, squeezing me in a hug of relief, I relaxed. The noon sun had started to dry me out, but I still wasn’t warm. Yet an unexpected sensation warmed me from the inside, and I hugged him back. It was the strangest thing. I barely know him, yet I was so happy to see him there, and alive, that I almost forgot about everything else.
Whatever you do, Romero, don’t say that I’m . . . Gotta go!
Go to Entry #9
Go to Entry #9