Imogen Ross jumped from the roof of the ten-storey building.
The wind tore at her hair, flung it around her head in a dirty-blonde halo. The cold chill raced down into her lungs and filled them. Exhalation at this point seemed like an impossibility. She closed her eyes as the rush of air buffeted her face. Pure. Icelike. Clear.
The grin on her lips belied her actions. Yet, the smile did not lack sincerity. An honest laugh bubbled up inside of her, like the inner turmoils of a carbonated drink. She screamed a victorious cry into the gust that swept down her throat. The yell cracked through the air, a rifle shot in the silence.
All those down in the street jerked their heads in the direction of the noise. Bats who zeroed in with echolocation. Necks clicked and cracked. Eyes bulged in their sockets as they sought the source of the disturbance. Open mouths hung limp, jaws wagged with pops and spasms. Some even reached for her, despite the chasm between them.
She had, up until that very moment, preoccupied herself with staying alive. Her main goal had been to remain ahead of the fury-fuelled horde. To keep out of their grasp, to stay in on piece, to live. But, Imogen came to realise, sometimes the result is out of your hands. Sometimes, this world decided you’d been around for far too long. She’d reached a point in the corridor of life where death lingered behind all the possible doors. Imogen had no more options.
Yet, you could control how you shuffled off this mortal coil.
Did she want to go out in a thousand pieces, torn apart by rabid humans, infected to the eyeballs with the virus? Did she want her last seconds on earth to be of agony and torture? As the hula-hoopers ripped out handfuls of flesh, insides splayed out like candy from a pinata? Or did she want to go out doing the one thing she’d always been curious about — a literal leap of faith?
In the end, it hadn’t been much of a decision at all. Shredded by cannibals might be the worst end to life imaginable. Anything outweighed that. Even the greatest fears she’d harboured in the darkest recesses of her heart — death by fire or by water. Smothered in flames, skin crackled and blistered like a pork chop. Drowned in ice-cold blackness, Poseidon’s hand shoved down your throat. Terrible as they may be, Imogen would have picked those over shredded by cannibals any day of the week.
Plus, how many times had she stood at this very ledge, curious to know how it’d feel to fall? To let go? To experience that rush as you plummeted to the ground, a kamikaze pilot sans vehicle? Her attachment to life had prevented her from doing so. As had her love for the people around her, and the knowledge of the pain it would cause. But that little voice at the back of her mind continued to mutter. What would it be like? What would it be like?
Now she knew. It felt like weightlessness. Like a bird who soared on an updraft of air. It felt like sleep. Like the float and sway of the land of dreams. It felt like magic. Like the dip and bob of a levitated object.
It felt like life.
The microseconds tick-tick-ticked away as the world around her slowed.
The ledge in front loomed — the neighbour tower block. Five metres. Give or take. Her rough estimation, in the heat of the moment. The gap between the roof from which she’d jumped and the roof that she wished to reach. Not an unreasonable distance. Humans could jump further. Imogen had watched them do it in the Olympics. But exercise had never been her friend. Even under ideal circumstances, Imogen wouldn’t dare to call herself fit and healthy.
Behind came the ravenous growls and shrieks of the ragers. The throng hopped up on HuLa. They’d chased her up the flights of stairs. A tough feat for her, she’d only kept ahead of them. Had fought tooth and nail as she scrambled up the endless staircases. Lungs on fire, limbs full of lactic acid. Her body had screamed at her. Imogen had pushed herself on and on and on. Somehow, her pitiful human frame cooperated.
When she burst out of the access door onto the roof, her first thought had been to shut the door and block it. To lock it. Wedge it shut with some sort of object. Before she even had a chance to close it, the first of the hula-hoopers slammed into it from the other side. It staggered her. Sent her stumbling.
And then the door burst open, and they exploded out on to the roof with her. Pus from a lanced boil. Ten. Twenty. Thirty of them. She had no way to count, the crowd nothing but a blur of grey skin, shredded features and splotches of blood. Some patches congealed to a black jelly. Others bright red and fresh — splashes of crimson paint.
Imogen backed away, hands held up. Her brain crashed as all her thoughts flooded the bottleneck of her mind. What to do? What to do? She had no weapon. Even if she did, their number quashed the notion of a fight. They’d swarm her and smother her in seconds, cover every inch. Only when her heel hit the lip of the roof did the idea spring up within, complete and fully formed.
She’d wasted no time.
She couldn’t have.
If Imogen had waited to think it through, the horde would be on her like flies on dung.
She didn’t have the seconds to take a run-up, either.
Imogen coiled her body like a spring. Hunkered down, knees bent. Crouched like a tiger.
Now that she had, the rightness of the decision flooded through her veins. Even if she died in the process. Life or death. At this point, it almost didn’t matter. She didn’t care about the outcome. The process that led to the decision — that held the highest honour.
To do things on your terms.
That and nothing more.
Imogen soared through the air.
This had been her choice.
This is part of my project (novella?) for April’s Camp NaNo. The plan is 30 short stories, 30 characters, 30,000 words. Give or take. All set in the same city. All focused on the same event.
This is actually #10 in the project. I also submitted part #1 to the monthly #BlogBattle, and part #3 to last week's Reedsy.