I couldn’t believe it. It wasn’t true. There was just no way.
I couldn’t believe it. It wasn’t true. There was absolutely, positively no way it was real.
I was going to wake up any minute, back in bed at home, with Mom whistling a few feet away in the kitchen. I was going to wake up, and it would all have been just a horrible dream.
But I wasn’t waking up, no matter how long I waited. I wasn’t waking up because some part of me knew it was not a dream. That light, the sound, the screams, the running, the bodies. They were all real. And this boy, he was real. And the truth – the goddamn truth – was that part of me knew his words were real too. My mother was dead, along with everyone else.
Everyone but me, and this boy, and the few people lucky enough to have escaped, who now lay in moaning clusters, waiting for salvation or death.
I couldn’t believe, though, that I’d never see her again. I’d never get to apologize for those things I’d said, for the words I’d used to hurt her. Just thinking about it made me want to cry again, the tears welling up in the corners of my eyes like the unwanted hopes trapped in the corners of my mind.
Just then I might have broken down again, might have buried myself in self-loathing and pity and pain, retreating so deep I’d never have to come back again. But I couldn’t, because, finally, much too late to do any good, the alarms went off. Sirens, their shrieks piercing through the shouts of human misery, thundered through the air, blaring over and over in a vain attempt to warn us of something. As if there could be anything left to warn against. As if there could be anyone who cared enough to listen.
“We have to go,” Nat whispered through the commotion, pushing himself to his feet. I followed suit reluctantly, casting one final glance over my shoulder. He’d stopped me before, but maybe, if I was fast enough, I’d have a chance to see for myself. Maybe I could find my mother, and she’d be alive and unhurt and just the same as always.
“Where? Where is there for us to go? We should just wait here for help.”
“No.” I shrank away from him then. His voice was so flat, so empty. I realized then that I knew nothing about him other than his name. Why did I trust him then? And how had he escaped with only a few cuts and a broken arm when my mother was dead?
It must have showed on my face, because his voice softened. “Listen to me. No one is coming to rescue us. They’re going to quarantine the area and search for survivors, but they aren’t going to save anybody. The government has no need for any of us. They are going to round everyone up and look for whoever set off the bomb. Then they will kill us all.”
“No. They wouldn’t do that. They would never do that! What the hell kind of delusion do you live in?! Last time I checked this wasn’t the French Revolution!”
Nat looked at me then, probably for the first time. I mean, he really seemed to see me then, not as just some random kid but as a person. And he pitied me. And I hated him.
Then he grabbed my arm with his good hand and started walking, dragging me along with him. “Believe me or not; it’s your choice. But I’m getting out of here, and I’m taking you with me.”
“Why?” I whispered, stumbling along behind him. He set a surprisingly quick pace, considering the way he favored his left leg. If anything I was the one holding him up, not his own injuries. Which, of course, pissed me off more. “Why bother bringing me? And don’t I get a choice?”
His humorless laugh went on for a tense minute before he pulled up short and turned to look at me. No, to glare at me. “No, you don’t get a choice. You’re coming with me because you’ve seen me, and I’d rather not risk leaving loose ends. So, if you want to choose that badly, I’ll give you a chance. Come with me now,” he said coldly, drawing something from his pocket, “or I’ll at least give you a quick death. Which, you should know, they certainly won’t.”
The knife gleamed less than an inch from my throat. I wanted to scream, but it wouldn’t have done any good. There was no one to hear, no one but a dozen mutilated corpses and a single boy with murder in his eyes. Finally, I nodded just a little, and he took the blade away.
“Smart choice. Now keep up,” and he was off, leaving me no choice but to follow, stumbling and gasping for breath as I fought vainly to slow my racing heart.