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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2. My Last

To say thank you for saving my dad's wallet, I offered to buy you ice-cream.

Your jeans were drenched- the wet material clinging to your legs and your trainers squeaking protestingly with every step you took. At first I'd planned on coffee, but Sarah was still with us, still begging for 'real tasty food', and she swore that unless she got what she wanted she'd tell Dad that I was spending my time with a stranger rather than with her.

She was clever, that kid.

You seemed to prefer it anyway. You were as childish as my sister: ordering a sunrise of different flavours and sauces, laughing as you somehow managed to coat your nose in the sticky substance. At that point, I was beginning to regret offering to pay, because yours was the largest and most extravagant I still have ever seen (even Sarah wouldn't have been able to eat all of it) but you smiled at me and winked at the guy who served us.

I can't explain the pang ofenvy that I felt when you told me you knew him- he was our age, sure, but I barely knew you, barely knew anything about you. You could have been a serial-killer for all I knew. You could have been anyone.  

But I wanted to know who you were. I wanted to feel jealous, because it conformed my suspicions that it was possible that I cared, and it was only when you left me in the shopping mall with an exhausted eight year old and a a damp wallet soaking into my jeans that I realised that I really was glad that I had your number.

Your mother and father owned a shipping company, meaning that they often left you alone for weeks on end, often with only a weekly phone-call for company. Both my parents were teachers, so I had a difficult time trying to believe that you hated the place. Your bedroom was bigger than my entire house, you had a horse

It's surprising how quickly we threw ourselves into each other. We were the polar opposites of each other: I was restrained and sarcastic, serious and reliant, but you... you were crazy. Your jeans were torn, your shirts ripped and your parents' patience was left in tatters. Blue hair glowed beneath the black beany as tattoos wound their way up your arms like pythons. You were strange and new and different, and I was terrified when I realised that I loved you. 

I was even more scared when you said you loved me back.

You loved me despite everything, despite my crazy promises and my dubious plans. You loved me despite the aversion to violence and the allergy to mushrooms. You loved me despite the stories I told you, despite the dyslexic sister and the obsessive parents. You loved me despite the out of tune guitar and the awful taste in music. You loved me despite everything, and I thought you crazy for it.

The night the world fell to pieces was just like any other. We were at mine, my parents were applauding Sarah's dance performance whilst we were watching a film. It was an old one, the audio crackling like tissue paper and a clichéd storyline, but you loved it. And because you loved it, I loved it too. We drew the curtains, popped our own popcorn with a popcorn maker you'd bought yourself for Christmas and curled up on my sofa like children, ignoring the broken springs and the worn fabric. When the credits began to roll the music filtered into the room like water- tinny and ancient, but you turned it up and began to dance.

I might have laughed at you had it not been so beautiful. Your eyes were closed, long lashes caressing your cheeks,  and your expression was so... peaceful, that the only word to describe you was entrancing. 

So I stood up and danced with you.

Your heart was trembling in your chest- I could feel its dance against my own, and I held you closer. You didn't open your eyes, not once, but you knew exactly where to rest your head on my neck, what step to take to ensure you didn't trip over any objects that were scattered like confetti on your floor.

When it happened, the credits had already faded into silence, leaving the screams loud and like acid in our ears.

When it happened, we were already running.

My family weren't picking up the phone and yours were in Scotland. We didn't know what to do- this was the kind of thing dreamt about by adventure seekers, these were the monsters dreamt up by film directors and horror writers. So all we did, all we could do, was run. We ran and we ran and we kept running. 

It was exactly how it was pictured in films; fires rampaging through buildings and leaving only ash in their wake, the screams filtering into the evening air and staining the smoke as red as the hungry, dead eyes we were running from. Some people had the same idea as we did and were bolting down the streets aimlessly, stumbling and shouting and gripping onto their loved ones; some clung to the shadows, praying that they could hide until it was all over.

But it was never over.

There were moments- seconds when time slowed and I could see the animalistic fear etched into each and every face- when I thought that it was it. Someone would grab me or throw them down and I'd close my eyes, and then there'd be a shriek and you'd be there, hauling me to my unsteady feet. We were all sheep- following the one in front, who was following the one in front, who was following the one in front... no one knew where we were going. We were floundering forward on a lurching carousel, waiting for the one light, the one beacon of safety to rise from the ashes.  

We ran and we ran and we ran.   

We spent months alone- unwilling and unprepared to welcome anyone else we met into our tiny group of two. We didn't trust anyone but each other- always moving forwards, always spinning around on our heels and continuing in the opposite direction the first instant we heard voices. Sometimes, when it was very, very cold, we'd curl up next to each other in the ratty blanket you'd stolen from a middle-aged couple in the very first maddening months, when people turned upon their friends and family like starving animals, attacking anyone who came close without hesitation or mercy. The first few months were insane: the living almost as brutal and uncaring as the dead that surrounded them.

I cut off all your hair when we hit the two-month mark. Someone had caught you only days before- winding their starving fingers through it, dragging you close, almost like a starving lover, almost snapping your neck with the force. They'd held a knife to your throat, and despite how much you fought them- clawing, sinking your teeth deep into their hand, they wouldn't let you go. 

So after I killed him, I found the sharpest pair of kitchen scissors I could, ones with blades only stained by blood rather than crusty in it, and cut all of your hair off. The blue had almost completely grown out anyway- the fresh blonde making your face appear paler, your eyes greener. You had no way to see your own reflection, and I had no heart to tell you that you looked like a baby chick; thick bunches of hair stuck out at random angles, the length changing in like mountain peaks.  

But we survived, always praising Bear Grylls and thanking him for teaching us everything we'd ever needed to know. And then we wondered whether our Prime Minister had survived, or my old head teacher, and we'd laugh. But thoughts like that would border on darker questions, ones like where our parents were, or if my little sister was still alive. Those were eggshells that neither off us wanted to tread on- terrified that we might break before they did.

And by that time, we'd stopped laughing again.

We'd raided as many shops as we could- clambering through shattering windows, the glass dusting the ground like confetti from a wedding- before stealing the strongest bags, the toughest boots, the thickest jackets we could. You even managed to find one of things that the assassins always wear on TV or in the films- a leg strap that you fastened a razor-sharp kitchen knife into. You always caught me looking at it, and sometimes joked that you'd go out of your way to find me one for myself. 

That's what we'd been planning on doing today, anyway.

We'd been running out of food, out of weapons that were still sharp enough to actually do any damage. We were starving; our ribs gouging hollow fissures in our frames, our frail bodies held together by sinew, tendons and lean muscle. We looked like It's funny, that after all this time, all these months, we'd circle back to the very shopping centre that we'd first met. 

We found a broken window, dropped inside, and that was when we found the monsters.      

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