Scarlet Skies

Of all the places, I never thought they'd get us here.
[Inspired by the song Early Sunsets Over Monroeville by MCR]
{Contains potential triggers for the first few paragraphs but that's it}

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1. My First

When I was younger, I used to love the blood.

I adored the scent; the tang of metal as it stained the white canvas air of my bedroom like ruby ink. I loved the colour as it trickled between my fingers, coating my forearm in a protective shield of scarlet. The blood was a release,  almost a drug, because it meant that I was still alive, somehow, still standing against the fierce bombardment of words that accompanied me at school. They were as constant as my shadow: always there, always following, and the pain that followed was almost comforting, because it meant that I had punished myself enough not to feel the guilt I told myself I deserved to feel.

Not anymore. Not now. The blood I see now sickens me. It's darker, for one, and thicker, coating the smooth tiles of the shopping centre like a shroud. They were once so clean- everything in this place was scrubbed to perfection- to the extent that you could actually see your reflection in them, loaded down with shopping bags and lifted up by empty pockets. Now everything is coated in a thick layer of dirt, the floor tiles as chapped and broken as your fingernails. The lights appear to be ready to plummet from the ceiling at any given moment, and I can't help but think that to be crushed by them would be a welcome release. Quicker, too.

Your blood sickens me; the smell is like a poison- it's so overpowering I'm almost doing in it, and you really are- constricting my throat and turning my stomach, but I can't stop to breathe. I can hear their howls, like hunting dogs, but it'll only be when we can hear their footsteps- the slow stubble of leaden feet- that the end will be upon us. That'll be soon, if we continue at the pace I've set us, but I can't leave you, either.

Of all the places, I never thought they'd get us here.

I choke in a breathe and clutch you tighter, arm trembling under your weight as you give a little moan. You don't open your eyes. I can hear the rasp of oxygen as you try to inhale, the gargle of blood as it fills your lungs. I don't want to look at you. I'm not going to look at you. I drag you another metre, another long, agonising metre that seems so much farther. The double doors, the exit, glares at me so tantalizingly, like the larger child who is holding my schoolbooks far above my head and refuses to give them back. Your feet drag against the floor

This isn't supposed to happen. This isn't how supposed to happen and you know it just as well as I do. I can tell by the way your hand fumbles at my wrist, your fingers freezing and numb, and tugs weakly, a vain attempt to release my grip on you. It's a pathetic, desperate plea; you can't stop me, not like this. Even though you want me to let you go, even though we both know that's the only way I can survive, I won't let you go. I won't flee without you. I won't leave you and let you die.

But I could, couldn't I? I could run, right now. I could drop you in the clotting trail of your own blood and run. I could let you be torn to pieces. And you know the worst thing about it? You wouldn't blame me. You want me to go, and if I did, then you'd only be happy. I wouldn't even have to watch. I could let my feet lead me to the outside and I could run. I could pump my arms and push my legs forward with each panicked inhalation of clean air and run. Run away from the memories of us against the world, run from the guilt that would tear me apart inside with steel-tipped fangs, run from the horror, all the horrors I have seen. I'm faster than the monsters, I'm faster than everything that would try to follow.

But they'd catch me eventually, though. And then I'd be running again.

'Please,' you cough, and your voice is barely an exhale of air between the deathly blue of your lips. 'Please.' 

I'm not going to tell you some frantically plastered-together lie that we both know isn't true. I won't tell you that you're going to live, that you're going to be fine. I'm not going to tell you that that your throat isn't bitten raw, that the torrent of blood that is currently pouring from it and coating your clothes isn't really that bad. I'm a terrible liar anyway, but you're no fool. You're doomed- you were the split second you left the monster charge too close. One way or another, you're doomed. You're already dead, and we both know it.

There's no cure, no treatment. We're alone.

'Please.' You say again, and I can barely hear you with the screaming that reverberates through the building. The scarlet reminds me of Hansel and Gretel, and how they used the breadcrumbs to find their way home. It's like that now, except the bread has been exchanged with blood, and the monsters are following it to find us instead. The doors are another thirty metres away, but how far away are the monsters that hunt us? The monsters that thirst for our blood, their elixir? The monsters that will tear our skin and rip our flesh apart like it's paper? I take another step and you don't make a sound.

I can't leave you here.

I have one arm looped under your armpit and around your waist, your back pressing against my leg and I heave you forward. My free hand is wrapped around my gun. The revolver, one of the set of two that we stole from your neighbour's house when the world descended to Bedlam. Do you remember how invincible we'd felt with those weapons at our hips? How the desperation to survive had morphed, evolved into a suicidal self-confidence?

And look where that's got us now.

'Do you remember this place?' I ask you. I don't bother lowering my face- there's no point. The monsters know where we are anyway.

You rasp in another breath, and your lips twitch into the slightest smile. With all the blood that cloaks your features, you may as well have your face painted into a clown's. Your eyes are still closed.

'It's where I first met you,' I continue. 'You were next to the fountain, and my little sister wanted to drop a penny into it and make a wish.'

You don't reply, but there's a huff of breath. There's more blood, such a dark crimson that's almost mockery of the colour black; the colour of my thoughts and my heart. How much can a single body hold? You'll know things like this- you're the clever one, the practical one. Until today, I'd never have thought that you'd do anything rash or impulsive. Your every movement was calculated, precise to the point of perfection. So what changed today? What was so different that you threw yourself into the danger?

Your lips aren't so blue as ashen now. You're heavy, almost too heavy, and as I gasp in a breathe and take another step, the oxygen that burns my throat has the texture of sandpaper.

Another step. Another step.

'She threw my dad's wallet in,' I continue. 'I was trying to find a coin, and she wrenched it from my hands and chucked the whole lot in. I didn't know what to do- Dad had just taken over a hundred pounds out of the bank for our weekend out, and I had about a second before the wallet began to sink. I don't know why you went in to get it. You joked that you were going to run off with it until you had a change of heart, but I'm not sure if that was really it.'

I pause, drag in another breath. 'I think that you were just being kind.'

We used to joke about how our minds must be linked, how we can always tell what they other is thinking, and I hope that's really true, because I don't have the breath to continue to talk. I need to get you out of here, but you're so limp, dragging over the floor, the rips in your trousers catching in every chipped and cracked tile that you pass over.

There are screams, cries, and they close in. I need to keep moving.

There's a heavy pounding in my chest, a racing tattoo of hollow despair at the knowledge that I'm not going to get away, not if I'm with you, the doors are too far away, and the monsters are closing in.

I don't want to die.

But we're close now, and the monsters must be further away than I'd first expected, because I haven't seen them yet. It's even possible that I overestimated them, overestimated the danger they now pose. It's even possible that we might make it. As you spit out a gasp between clenched teeth, I'm suddenly reminded that it's only I that will make it, if that's even possible.

I need to get out of this place, this hellish shopping centre that was once filled with so many memories: you and I trading weekends with new clothes, being forced onto family shopping trips and the many last minute scrambles for birthday presents. Now there's only the dead and the empty- animated corpses and the adrenaline rush of survival instincts.

One more step and we're at the doors. We're going to make it. When the monsters first found me- when you threw yourself headfirst into the danger in order to save my life- I wasn't sure if either of us would survive. But we've made it to the doors. We-I- am going to survive.

You don't make a sound as I let you go and prop you against the glass pane windows. I think that you're too far gone now. I can barely hear you breathing, and your lips and skin is the colour of ash. You move slightly, adjusting yourself into a seating position and press your face into your knees. 

I'm going to make it. I take one more look around, one more look at the shop doors that are lined in uniform rows, posters peeling, mannequins imprisoned in their glass cages, and then I tug on the doors. They don't move.

I pull on them again. Nothing.

'No!' I scream. 'No! No no no!'

I slam my fist into them and then my shoulder. I kick the doors again and again and again because they have to move, they have to open, because if they don't then we'll both be torn apart and I don't want to die, I don't want to die like that because we came in through a window on the opposite side of the building and oh God they need to open they have to open because oh God if they don't then we're both going to die...

But they don't. They don't open, they don't break, and I scream with frustration and despair.  

And I give up as the monsters close in. 

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