I’m not used to waking to a single scream. Although I should probably find out what’s wrong, I keep my eyes closed and piece together my memories. I fight them away but it doesn’t take me long to remember what happened, and my eyes jolt wide open. From my position, moving isn’t my priority, so I lay and look at my surroundings. Green, dusky yellow, more green, brown, blue, red. Red? Blood. Blood? I slowly move myself, my toes, then my legs, then my body, until I’m sat up. I only now realise where I am. I’m in a field.
Another scream. A few meters away from me is the boy, crouched down in the grass with two hands on his leg. What’s he done? I look around me, it’s just us, and crawl over to where he is hunched over.
“Here,” I say, prying his fingers away from his wounded leg, “let me help.” His lower shin is sliced and covered in grime. If I don’t clean it, he’s going to get an infection. I pull of my long sleeved t-shirt so that I am just in a vest and jeans, spit onto my t-shirt and press it down on his shin.
“Hold it there,” I order. How do I know how to do this? More importantly, how did he do this?
“How did you do this?” I ask when most of the pain has gone from his face.
The boy swallows, “we got Outside and you collapsed. From shock? Maybe. I had to carry you away, but I tripped on the way.” Now I realise why my back is so painful. I turn away from him and lift up my vest. Looking over my shoulder, I see a collection of red marks and bruises all down my back. Quickly, I pull my vest back down and sit next to the boy, who looks at me.
“Chance,” he hold out his hand, but I don’t shake it. Why should I give him my real name? It’s the only piece of my past that I know.
“Blaire,” that’s what I decide in the end. It reminds me of running to the Outside, running away from the prison. And that’s a memory that I would like to keep. We sit in silence for a bit, neither of us speaking, but both of us observing. We observe the Outside, the small part of it that we are sat in. This type of Outside is nothing like the photos that the man showed me, this is beautiful. Trees, grass, clouds, sky, light. All of the things that I never thought I would see stare me right in the face, and it’s all like a dream.
“Chance,” I say, suddenly remembering something that the man had told me in the prison, “the virus is air born.” Wait, Chance doesn’t know about the virus.
“I know,” he says. What? Does he know about the virus? How?
“How?” I ask, but he just shakes his head, as if that’s a story that he doesn’t like to talk about. Not that we talked much until this day. I want to venture into the cities and the towns, but if the virus is air born then what’s to stop us from catching it? Maybe the virus has run its course, maybe after it killed all of those people it just went away and left them for dead. Like the man did. Like I did.
I stand up abruptly and check my pocket, but my blade is gone. How? I could have dropped it whilst we were running, or when I slit that man’s wrist. I wonder if he bled out, if he died whilst Chance and I were fleeing from the prison. Maybe somebody found him and helped him. Maybe he’s going to come out looking for us, to get revenge for what I did to his wrist. I shiver.
“We should get going,” says Chance, pushing himself up and steadying himself on my arm, “if we leave now we could get to the city by nightfall.” I wonder how he knows so much. From what I was told, we all had our memories taken when we were put in the prison. Although I don’t want to, something inside of me says that I can trust him.
“How far away is the city?”
“Seven miles,” he replies. That seems like a reasonable distance, but with his injured leg and my back, I doubt we will make it very far into the city. Hopefully we’ll make it far enough to find some water.
I touch his arm, making sure that he is alright walking on his own, “okay.” So we head off. I hate to leave the field, even though we’ve only been there for a night and a few hours, it’s peaceful, unlike anything that we are going to find in the city. I sigh, and let him lead the way.
Chance leads us out onto a wide open road full of cars. Without the fire and the bombs, this reminds me of the pictures that the man showed me. Abandoned. Some of the car doors are open, probably where some struggled to get to somewhere safe. Because from what I can see, the road behind us is blocked. There must have been no use trying to drive a car through that. As we walk, I run my hand along one of the cars. Dust? It doesn’t feel like dust. Seeing my curiosity, Chance limps over to me and places his hand on the car.
“Frost,” he says.
“When it gets really cold outside, where water particles have frozen on the car it creates frost. They’re like tiny water crystals,” he explains, and then the look on his face turns more serious, “that means that it’s going to get pretty cold tonight.”
I bite my lip in concern and keep on walking. The road seems to go on forever, but very far away in the distance I can see the outline of the city. We’re not close enough to see if it matches any of the photos that I saw in the man’s office, but I already have a feeling of dread. Something just isn’t right.
As we are walking, I notice that every now and then Chance stops and checks in a car. Maybe he’s looking for some water, or even food. He finally comes to a small red car and calls me over.
“Blaire!” He shouts, “come check this out!”
I run over to him, and he’s leant over something that I can’t see. A rucksack? He tips the contents out onto the bonnet of the car and smiles, holding his hand up in the air. I raise an eyebrow.
“It’s called a high five,” he says, “you go like this.” Chance takes my hand and hits it against his, and then shows me each of the things that he’s found.
“It looks like somebody came prepared,” says Chance, “when people were trying to flee the city they packed things to keep them going. Looks like this person was in a hurry, but unlike the other things it’s all just about in date.”
He’s right. Laid out on the bonnet is a bottle of water, a big bag of what I think are nuts, three pocket knives and a blanket. Chance is about to take a sip of water when I stop him.
“Wait until we need it,” I say, and put all of the stuff back in the rucksack, swinging it over my shoulder and wincing in pain when it hits my back. Chance obviously notices my pain, but I shake my head before he can offer to carry the bag, and we keep on walking. I still wonder how he knows so much about what happened. For somebody that isn’t supposed to have any memories, he knows an awful lot. He even seems to know more than the man. Maybe that’s why he never used to talk much. Maybe they only wiped the memories of those who questioned them. That’s why Chance was always so quiet. It makes sense.
We’ve been walking for about three hours, and I finally convince Chance to sit down on one of the cars so that I can clean his wound properly with some of the water. He rolls up his trouser leg and I drip the water onto his cut, gently rubbing it clean with my t-shirt.
“How do you know how do to this?” He asks as I tie my t-shirt tightly around his leg so that the bleeding will stop. He has a point; surely I shouldn’t remember this sort of thing. Maybe before the disease I worked with the police, or as a nurse. It’s as if I have an instinct to take control in a situation. Was I too young to have a job?
As we get closer to the city I can start to make out some features. A lot of the buildings are intact, nothing like what the man showed me in the photos. Although some buildings have crumbled away. It doesn’t look like a city should look, I don’t remember what they look like, but when I was in the man’s office he had pictures of what the city was like before and after the disease struck. Cities are meant to have lights, noise, busy roads and traffic jams. But all of the cars here are empty and non-mobile. Maybe Chance would be able to get one started, since he seems to know so much, whereas I know so little.
“Do you think the cars still work?” I ask, breaking the silence between us.
Chance hesitates, “maybe. But even if they did work there’s not a chance that we would be able to drive from here to the city. Too many cars are blocking the roads.” He explains, “When we get closer to the city there should be less cars, because when they tried to destroy the city they had to bring in a load of tanks and armed trucks, so they would have cleared the main roads that run through the city.”
“How do you know all of this?” I ask, but again he just shakes his head. So I give up and walk ahead a bit, looking around at the cars, making sure that the people from the prison didn’t follow us.
“Blaire!” Chance shouts from behind, “look up!”
I look up, and above me is the first building in the outskirts of the city. I’d lost track of time obviously, too caught up in my thoughts to notice how close we really are now. Chance catches up quickly and smiles at me, the first time I have properly seen him smile. I smile too. It’s quite a big building, maybe an old office block? No, it looks more like an apartment block.
“Apartments?” I ask, and Chance nods, “do we go in?” He nods again, but grabs my arm.
“The virus is air born, but I think its run its course. We could have been infected that whole journey, and if we were then we would have noticed by now. I think the virus has gone, but some of the bodies might still be contagious if you come into contact.”
“But how can it change from being air born to something else?” I question.
“Disease can mutate Blaire,” he says, “but just remember that this is a man-made disease that went wrong, which means that the likeliness of it mutating is higher than the likeliness of an average disease to mutate.” His words are confusing, but I understand for the most part. Is it worth the risk? Yes.
Chance goes in first, pocket knife in hand. Why? I don’t know. Do I really want to know? Not really. I decide to copy him anyway as he seems to know more than me, so I draw out another pocket knife and clutch it in my right hand. As soon as we walk in, my stomach lurches. Blood. Blood is everywhere. It seems to be the only thing that I can see. Blood. I clasp my hand over my nose to stop myself from breathing in the rotting smell. This blood looks so fresh, how could this have been three years ago? Was it another lie that I was told? Probably.
Chance seems to somehow ignore the blood and walk up the stairs. I follow him, up and up until we reach the top floor.
“Why the top floor?” I ask.
“Better view,” he chuckles to himself and walks right to the end of the corridor, “left flat or right flat?” He asks me, pointing between the two.
“Left,” I say, and without further delay he pushes open the door. We walk in together, and the flat seems to be strangely well kept. What was I expecting? Some of the other ones we walked past were wrecked, but this one looks like the person just left, no rushing, no running. Peacefully. Maybe it’s because we’re on the top floor. I don’t know.
As I expected, it is small. Small kitchen, small dining area, small bedroom, small shower room. Small. Chance unhooks a key from a key holder and locks the door behind us, how does he know which key? I shrug off my questions, saving them for later, and throw the rucksack onto a white leather chair that is one of two on a small table.
Something isn’t right.
You know it.
It feels too safe here.