He lies face-down on the dusty, dirty floor. Dried leaves blow around his face, and the musty smell of death fills his nose with every breath he manages to take. He rests his hands on the floor either side of his face, feeling what he’s sure is bruising in his ribs as he pushes himself to his knees. Beyond the room, he can hear the distressed yelling of the birds as they take off from the trees, flapping into the sky and circling above the clearing.
The room is dark, damp and cold. A thin layer of soil and dust coats what may have once been a carpeted floor, which has now worn down to reveal the rotting wooden floorboards beneath. Pushed against one wall is a low single bed, the mattress growing green with moss and grass. There are what he assumes must have once been curtains on each of the windows, thick with black mould and hanging in shredded tatters beside each of them. One corner is taken up with a smaller room that he assumes must be a bathroom, and there is a tiny kitchen-diner in another.
He pushes himself to his feet and walks slowly and carefully across the creaking floorboards, heading towards the bed. Through the shadows he can just about see the shape of a body: all brown-white bones with tatters of clothes hanging around them, half of them missing and the other half scattered with scratch marks of claws and teeth. He backs away again until his hands find the damp of the wall beside the door. So far, he’s outnumbered: Living 1, Dead 2.
There is nothing here for him. He moves to sit at the edge of the doorway, pressing his hand against the burning soreness in his ribs as he looks down at the crumpled, tangled mess of stairs laid out on the moss below. The drop isn’t particularly far, yet he hesitates, imagining the fall, the feel of the wind in his clothes and the moment of weightlessness before he hit the ground. He imagines the striking pain in his knees as he crouches on the concrete. He imagines what it will feel like if he lands among the twisted metal stairs instead, the stabbing, piercing pain as one of the rusty wall-spikes imbeds itself in his torso, the snap of his bones against the steel. How it will feel to lie paralysed and waiting for death, creatures snipping and biting and tearing at his flesh.
He shakes his head. One second of bravery, one leap of blind faith towards the clear mossy patch of ground just beyond the steps. That’s all it will take. He closes his eyes and counts to three. Then he counts to three again, because the first time didn’t work.
When he opens them, he is still sat at the edge of the doorway, his feet dangling towards the earth. Just jump. But something holds him back. He can’t tell whether it’s the remnants of societal expectations: what’s acceptable to do and what isn’t, or whether it’s the sheer fear of the world he is about to enter into. While he can stay hidden away in the bunker, he doesn’t have to face it. Before, he could convince himself that everything would be okay, that he just had to walk to the city and do what he needed to do and then everything would be fine.
But then he’d found the body in the tank. And then the one upstairs, and no sign that anyone living had been around for who knows how many years. What if he was the only one left, in the whole entire world. Would he ever find him?
His name comes back to him like a whisper from among the trees, the four letters weaving and winding their way through every inch of his being to power him forwards. He drops to the floor and falls face first, rolling in the moss until he lies uncomfortably on his back with his hands at his sides, his backpack pressing underneath him and his face lifted towards the sky.
“You aren’t alone in this world,” He tells himself, his eyes following the clouds across the sky. They’re fluffy and white, tinged with grey at the edges. Soon they will turn pink and red and the sun will set. He sits up, the urge to keep moving now buzzing and flowing through his veins like hot coffee. He’s waiting for you.
And with that he rolls to his knees and climbs to his feet once more. His trousers are stained green and brown with moss and earth, and he aches all over from the landing, but he knows he can’t stay curled on the ground all day, thinking about what could be but never moving towards it.
He walks around the bunker until he is stood at the edge of the clearing. The ground beyond stretches downhill, the earth buckled and twisted with tree roots winding beneath the earth. “Hang in there, Adie.” He says, taking his first steps into the darkness of the forest beyond. “I’m coming for you.”