It took us about an hour to reach the outskirts of New Ferry, and the sorry sight before my eyes was absolutely devastating. I covered my mouth in horror, staring at all that was left of the once beautiful and majestic town of New Ferry.
My parents used to show me pictures of what New Ferry used to look like BEFORE. It used to have a magnificent and breathtaking towering waterfall, with a beautiful countryside in the distance. Tall skyscrapers stretched towards the sky in the city, where quaint little neighborhood houses dotted the landscape.
Looking at it now, it didn't look anything like the pictures. The magnificent skyscrapers were gone, collapsed in rubble heaps on the ground, the waterfall no longer streamed water down the rocks - the rocks were now crumpled, fallen into the lake. The pristine clear lake was deluded with mud, rocks, dirt, radiation, and ash. Craters left from the explosions littered the war-ravaged valley below.
A whimper escaped from Jane's lips behind me. Other than that, it was deathly silent as we gazed at the demolished landscape that lay in ruins before us. It only made me hate the NGO even more, with a fiery, burning passion.
"The NGO won't get away with this." I vowed, half to myself. Beside me, Jackie and Kyle murmured their agreement.
"They'll pay sooner or later." Kyle vowed, pushing the bridge of his glasses back up his nose.
Breaking the somber silence, Sal turned to Blake, a look of determination now on his tired face. "Now that we have seen the destruction The New Government Order has wreaked upon your wonderful town, we are more than ever determined to help."
Blake nodded, relieved. "Thank you so much. This means a lot to us."
Ella, who had brought an old camera roughly around the twentieth century, started snapping pictures of the destroyed city. She was in charge of taking evidence back to our band of misfits. They would surely flip when they saw the pictures. Hopefully it would wipe the smug smile off Alec's face and make him eat his words.
Blake quietly led us down the hill and through the demolished remains of a subdivision, with its crumbling buildings, rotted/blown-apart fences, and upturned lawns. Ella snapped a few more pictures of the mess as we walked, but most of us just gazed around with somber looks at the destruction. This was what the evil Reign of Horror NGO had caused... Was *this how they were going to force us to obey their commands? Well, that was never going to happen; I was going to make sure of it.
It took us fifteen minutes or more to reach the place where the survivors of the bombing were staying. It was only a small neighborhood, with maybe twenty houses max. We saw kids of all ages out in the yards, on the street, cooking over small campfires, or going in and out of the houses. As we walked through, everyone came out to meet us, stopping whatever they were doing to stare at us, their sullen eyes filled with despair and sadness; I could practically taste it in the air. All of them were caked in dirt; their clothes were tattered, and some were all bandaged up.
It was a sad sight; like what happened in Haiti and after some hurricane called Katrina so long ago, or that tsunami that ripped through Japan, causing a nuclear meltdown at their power plants. But it was nothing compared with what had happened here.
My gaze was immediately drawn to this little dark-haired girl who had her thumb in her mouth, standing off to the side. She was starting timidly at me with her little doe-eyes. She looked to be about six or secen years old at most. And, despite the destruction all around her, she wore a pretty yellow-canary dress tattered at the hem, ripped and caked with dirt. She even had a little pink bow pinned in her hair, as if someone had tried to make her look nice even after all that had just happened.
Her adorable little brown-eyed gaze slipped from mine and went straight to Blake's. Her face lit up like the sun at the sight of him, and she ran over to him. Seeing her advance, Blake kneeled down to meet her, arms out and ready to embrace her. His face broke out into a smile as the little girl jumped into his embrace. There was still a hint of sadness mixed with exhaustion in his face and in his dark eyes.
"BAKE!" The little girl cried in her cute little kid voice, wrapping her little arms around his neck. It was such an adorable sight that I could feel my heart clench in my chest, as if someone was lightly squeezing it.
Blake hugged her, patting her back affectionately. "Hey, squirt. Are you staying safe and being nice to the other kids?" he asked her, as if he were her parent, making sure she was using good manners. It was absolutely adorable.
"Yes, jus wike you tol' me!" she told him dutifully as she gave him a wide grin from ear to ear, carefree; she had no idea how much her life was on the line, didn't know what was at stake; she was absolutely lucky.
"Good, now go on and play with your friends. I've got some things to take of." He said, giving the girl a pat on the top of her little brown head. Giggling, the little girl ran off, waving a last goodbye.
When she left, Blake got back to his feet. He glanced at me, noticing me watching him, and smiled, that same sad, somber look back on his face. I didn't really know how to respond to that. 'Should I smile back? Would I look stupid??'
Instead, I turned away, my face burning at being caught looking. Jeez, there was something very wrong with me.
Kyle nudged me back to hard reality. "Come on, Rox. We need to search for more survivors. There are still a bunch of people missing." He told me, waving me on. Knowing how much this whole situation was bothering me, he didn't ask if I was okay. He was like my personal crutch against all this sadness, a constant reminder that I had to be brave; I was very glad I had him.
I nodded, collecting myself. "Yeah, alright. Let's go." I said.
However, much to my surprise, Blake walked over. 'Oh crap! What now?' I thought, trying not to show how freaked out I was.
"May I help with the search?" he asked politely, his dark blues flicking first to me, then to Kyle.
"Yeah, sure. Follow us." Kyle said. "We need another party to add to the search."
The Twins, Jane, and Ella joined us as well, along with Blake's other bodyguard friends.
Jackie caught my eyes, wiggling her eyebrows at me. "And he's good with kids, too! That definitely brings up his adorable cuteness factor." She winked.
I couldn't quite get into the spirit of teasing her back, but I lightly pushed her anyways. "You know, I'm going to seriously hurt you when we get back." I told her.
She grinned at me. "I know," she replied matter-of-factly. I rolled my eyes this time. She was infuriating, but her goofy manner always made my mood a little bit better.
"Let's not waste time, guys." Kyle reminded us, trying to get us moving along.
Jackie and I got down to business, dropping the teasing for now. We followed Kyle and Blake as he led us to the heart of New Ferry, where the destruction was the worst.
"So where did the explosions happen?" Kyle asked. Blake was walking on his right side so I took my place on Kyle's left to listen in on what Blake had to say, making sure to keep a safe distance from him and those gorgeous eyes of his...
'WHAT? Did I just call his eyes GORGEOUS!? What the hell is wrong with me??'
Blake answered Kyle's question while motioning up ahead at an empty shell of another demolished building that I instantly recognized. It used to be the tallest, most magnificent skyscraper in all of New Ferry, from what I remembered. It had been one of the towns' trademark buildings and attractions, with the addition of New Ferry's gigantic waterfall and river ways.
I remembered seeing the building in the pictures my parents had shown me long ago, how it used to tower about 50 feet tall. But now it was completely gone, only a huge mound of debris left where it once stood. As we got closer, Ella took a snap shot of the mound.
"We haven't been able to remove the debris to look for more survivors, but with more people, we actually might be able to now." Blake said, sounding relieved at that last part.
"What is your job here?" Kyle wondered as he pushed the bridge of his glasses upright on his nose again, rather interested in this Blake character. I kind of was too, to be honest; he was so mysterious that it made me want to know more about him. But hey, I was no stalker, mind you.
"Well, I was in charge of all the guards, but now we have so many, plus there's a new guy who wants to take over, thinking me too-- I don't know... They just want someone new." Blake said, with an exasperated sigh at the end. He looked annoyed, too, poor guy.
"Huh, that really stinks, man. If it helps, you look new enough to me... For us, we have just the opposite; we don't have enough guards to go around." Kyle said conversationally, his mind elsewhere. Blake nodded silently, deep in thought.
We finally reached the mound of rubble of the demolished skyscraper a while later. It was a mess; soot and ash laid everywhere, covering everything. Some of us began hacking and coughing so bad from the sooty dust that still permeated the air around us. The smell of burnt rubber and metal was all that I could smell; it was so horrible that I was ready to upchuck the bread I ate earlier.
"Ew! It smells so gross!" Jane complained, plugging her nose at the putrid smell.
"Agreed," Jackie replied, covering her mouth with the collar of her dusty brown shirt.
"I've got some masks if that will help." said one of Trina's interns who had tagged along with us. Ella, the Twins, and Jane took that opportunity to grab some, but I decided to brave it and go without. Probably not one of my finer moments...
We got to work moving rubble, like broken cement slabs from the pile of the burned skyscraper. Each time we moved something, dust went flying everywhere and the kids started coughing like no tomorrow. Eventually, Trina came around and handed out bottles of water, which helped wash down the grit and dirt that had gotten stuck in our throats. Yuck!
After a couple hours of hard work moving aside debris, we found our first survivor - a man who appeared to be somewhere in his thirties, bruised pretty badly. His hair was caked heavily in dirt and soot, resembling a ghastly kind of ghost. He was laid off to the side, coughing up dirt, while two guys put him on a stretcher, handed him some water to drink, and then taken away. Sadly, the others weren't so lucky.
A couple of young guys around their twenties were found under a particularly large slab of cement and metal scaffolding, which had probably killed them on impact. I had the unfortunate honor of finding the dead body of a young girl who appeared to have been crushed by the falling skyscraper after it had been blown up.
I choked up, placing my dirty hands over my mouth in absolute shock and horror. She looked almost exactly like me: pale ginger hair, with ringlets hung matted and splayed around her head, besides the fact that she had deathly pale skin stretched thin over her bones and dark, lifeless green eyes that stared into nothingness. She was bloody and bruised, with the soft features of an innocent girl. She was so young...
I barely noticed the movement out of the corner of my eyes as someone kneeled down next to me, lightly touching my shoulder and snapping me out of my thoughts. I turned to see it was Blake, looking solemnly at me as if he understood my pain.
He looked away to reach out and close the girl's eyes, making it look as if she were sleeping. Fully awake now, I carefully rubbed my eyes, barely registering the fact that I was crying - which surprised me; I rarely ever cried much anymore. I was the one with the steely resolve, or so I thought.
"Are you going to be okay?" Blake asked in a soft and gentle voice. It almost didn't sound like a question.
I just nodded, not trusting my voice enough to speak aloud. Somehow I felt more comfortable now - I had no idea how or why, but I did. With Blake there, it made the situation somewhat better, which wasn't what I was used to. This was seriously getting weird.
Taking me by surprise, Blake got to his feet in one fluid motion. He bent down and picked the girl up gently, cradling her like a baby in his arms. He carried her over to a barren field where the dead were to be buried.
I got to my feet, composing myself once again. That girl had scarily resembled me in almost every characteristic way, except my eyes were a lighter green - whereas hers had been practically hazel.
Blake came back, making sure I was really okay. After I insisted that I was fine, Blake nodded and went back to work - not before he gazed one last time into my eyes. Once he found whatever he'd been looking for, he flashed me a friendly but sad smile and went back to work.
Once I had composed myself again, I, too, got back to work as well, but my mind was still on Blake. The guy made me nervous, no doubt about that; I freakin' blush every time we made eye contact! What was wrong with me?
I snuck a peek at him as I worked, moving rubble with my friends. Blake was helping Kyle lift a particularly massive cement slab off a guy's trapped leg; sadly, the guy would most likely end up losing that leg.
I couldn't help but notice how strong Blake looked, lifting up that huge slab. He wore a T-shirt that showed off his nicely toned arms so I could clearly see the strained muscles that showed in his arms as he lifted the thing. I was sorta awestruck.
"You're drooling..." Jackie said under her breath, grinning like an idiot. I flushed angrily, glaring at her. Apparently, I had stopped working and she had taken notice of it, as did Jane and Ella; they all snickered gleefully at me.
"Just get back to work," I grumbled, my face still pink. My friends snickered some more, but quickly got back to work. There was something definitely wrong with me if I was constantly staring at a guy, 'drooling' - as Jackie would most definitely put it. What was with me?? I never shared an interest in guys before now. I guess it was a girl thing... I must be going through that stage.
Once we had officially cleared out the blast zone, we all headed back to camp to get some much needed rest. We were completely covered with dust and soot, all sweaty and tired from the relentless hours of clearing up the blast zone.
"Ew, I'm all dirty and gross!" Jane whined. "What I wouldn't give for some deodorant right about now..."
"Aw, poor Janie," Rickie empathized sarcastically, which earned him a dirty look from Jane. She absolutely hated being called Janie, and so Rickie constantly called her that just to annoy the hell out of her.
"Shut up, Jerk-Face!" She retorted. Before the argument got heated and ended badly, I decided it would be an excellent time to I cut in. I hated it when they fought; they were like this twenty-four seven!
"Okay, you two! Enough. Can't you just act like you like each other?"
"NO!" They said in perfect unison. I sighed, throwing my hands up in defeat. They were a lost cause; I don't know why I even bothered...
'Idiots,' I muttered.
The day rolled on, not getting any cheerier. A dozen more bodies were buried out in the nearby field and given a respectful burial - even the bodies that no one had claimed. It was truly such a sad ordeal. I hated all the sadness and despair; it always put a damper on everything good and happy. But that was life for ya, wasn't it? That was the life for us Old Americans - if one could even call us that.
My friends and I helped distribute the clean clothes, food, and water to the survivors of New Ferry, or what was left of them, and we were immersed in our work for the rest of the day. When the sun began to set and everything became dark, a cold breeze picked up, and the temperature dropped a good twenty degrees. That's when we all gathered around our own campfires for warmth, chowing down on our much-deserved dinner.
Our group was given our own campfire to keep us warm. Since we didn't have anything available to us to really keep us warm with - besides the campfire - my friends and I huddled close together on a log for body warmth, sitting as close to the fire as we could without getting burnt. Thankfully, Blake the Muscle God came to our rescue with a bundle of blankets in his arms, giving one to each of us.
"Ohmygosh, THANKS!" Jackie exclaimed, taking the blanket he handed her.
"No problem," He handed one to me and flashed me a one of his sad-but-grateful smiles. "Thank you for coming to us help out. Sal told me how you backed him up in the meeting, and how everyone followed suit. I hear you're a pretty good leader yourself."
I flushed at his praise. "Uh... thanks? It was nothing, really..." I mumbled, turning even pinker. Ugh, what was wrong with me!
"We're glad we came!" Jackie said, saving my butt. She may drive me crazy like the rest of my friends, but I would truly be lost without her; I owed her a lot.
After Blake walked away and was put of earshot, Jane took a bite of her roasted rabbit and have me a knowing look. "Jackie's right, you DO like him! Plus, he is super hot." she giggled, her eyes alight.
I gave Jackie a piercing glare. "Traitor," I hissed.
She just grinned and shrugged her shoulders innocently.
"And clearly he likes you back. How perfect!" Ella jumped in.
I smacked a hand to my forehead. Great, now I was getting ganged up on. They were all traitors!
Suddenly, there was a massive explosion near our encampment, making all of us jump in surprise. Screams erupted around us, with people running around panicking and looking absolutely scared. What was going on??
I immediately was on high alert. My friends and I got to our feet. I looked around me, trying to find out where the sound had come from. All heads did the same.
"What just freakin' happened?" Jackie wondered, freaked out. She wasn't the only one.
"Is the NGO attacking again?" Jane fretted, on the verge of tears.
I scanned the terrain. Once I spotted Sal, I raced over to him, and my friends quickly followed.
"Sal, what the hell is happening?" I demanded. "Are we being attacked? Have they found us?" I didn't have to clarify who 'they' were. I looked around in case the enemy was flying above us to bomb us yet again. I turned to my right and saw a billowing column of smoke coming from a suburb off in the distance. Thankfully, it was only a mini-explosion, nothing like the first.
Sal didn't say anything at first. Instead, he stared out at the smoke rising from the mini-explosion, a look of guilt all over his face.
"Sal, what's wrong?" I repeated, waiting to hear the worst. Blake, who stood next to me, leaned in, his expression braced as well.
Sal pried his gaze from the blast. "Rox, I sent Kyle over there to search for more survivors..." Sal didn't finish his sentence - he didn't have to.
My blood ran ice cold. I turned and looked towards the rising column of smoke again, noticing how it began to wane and blow away by the chilling winds. "We need to get over there!" I insisted. I wanted to know that Kyle was okay and that it wasn't him who had caused that explosion. I wasn't even sure if it was a mine bomb or if the NGO had been lying in wait. I wanted to get over there to find out as soon as possible.
Sal sent Blake, Jane, Ella, the Twins, and I over to investigate, followed by a handful of New Ferry guards just in case. We headed out right away, not wasting any time.
'Please, please be okay...'