“What now Agostania? What could possibly…” I stopped in horror as the lower half of her jaw exploded into my face and splattered on the wall behind us. The contents of this morning’s ten year old canned ravioli poured out of my mouth and onto the ground. The wall behind me exploded with gunfire as I dove to the ground. The front of my shirt was now coated with blood and vomit. The smell threatened to remove more of the contents of my empty stomach, if it could. I pushed myself to my feet as quickly as I could and dove behind the dumpster Agostania and I had been digging in a few moments before the gunfire began.
Loud metallic blasts rang out where the bullets smacked against the dumpster. I ran back the same direction I had just came from and ducked inside the door just as a bullet clipped my lower left leg. As that same leg contacted the ground I was tumbling down for the second time this afternoon. Two pairs of hands grabbed my arms and dragged me back to my feet.
The large three hundred pound sister of Agostania growled into my face. “Jones, where’s Agostania?”
“Her jaw. She…” I couldn’t even begin to describe what I had just experienced.
Starla’s lips pursed and her eyes constricted harder than I’d ever seen them before. To say she was a hard woman would be an extreme understatement.
“Starla, we have to get out of here with Jones right now. The tunnels of the subway will provide the cover we need. We can find answers and revenge another time. We cannot stand here discussing things while the gang outside closes in on us.” Francio was already pulling me toward the stairs that led to the subway. Sweat dripped down his bald head and into the cavity of his missing right ear. The bright red skin surrounding his injury was inflamed and filled with puss.
Starla opened her mouth to scream and then immediately clenched her jaw. “I’m right behind you. I’m going to pull down this vending machine into the front of the door. That should slow them down a little.”
Our footsteps thudded on the cement steps. There weren’t more than two flights down to the subway and then we’d escape into the tunnels below. My steel grey backpack repeatedly smacked against my back and my leg threatened to give out every step of the way. The material of my pants was sticking to my leg and blood was dripping into my boot. “Francio, I’m losing blood. We either stop the flow or I’m not going to make it. My head already feels hollow.”
He turned his head back to look at me and shrugged. “It’s not as bad as you think. You’ll make it a few hundred yards. We need to keep going or we’ll all be dead.” He turned his face back forward and his dull red backpack jostled against his back. He continued running.
The tunnel split into two directions and the three of us ran down the left most tunnel. A half a mile later it split again. Starla and Francio took the right most tunnel. They were at least a block ahead of me. My lungs burned, my leg stung, and I had nothing left to give. If the gang was going to catch me and kill me, there wasn’t anything I could do about it. I slumped hard to the ground and laid back against my backpack. Hard cans and the head of a hammer dug into my back. The blackness of the tunnel turned darker and my brain threatened to lose consciousness. I had a vague feeling of being pulled to my feet but wasn’t sure if I was being dragged or dreaming.
“Francio, he doesn’t look good. I think we should leave him. He’s only going to get us killed.”
“Starla! We are not going to abandon him.”
Her voice reminded me of ice freezing in rimes from the edge of a flag pole. “Why not? He left my sister to die.”
“I guarantee you that it wasn’t his fault. He might look like a skeleton, but he’s the only reason we’re alive.” A ripping sound brought my eyes open and I looked down to see Francio ripping my pantleg. His backpack was sitting next to my bootless foot. His knife made a dull swooshing sound as he placed it back into it’s sheath that he wore around his belt. “If it wasn’t for him then we would have starved months ago. No one had food or water they were willing to share, but he was generous enough to take us into his home. Without his kindness…” He trailed off.
Starla handed him a small bottle of vodka, a needle, and thread. “You’re right.” Her face reflected bitterness, resentment, and embarrassment all at the same time.
Pain seared through my leg as vodka soaked into the tar coated rocks of the disused tracks. Francio stood up, dug his fists into his back, and arched. “Alright. That’s as good as we’re going to get for now. Thankfully the bullet didn’t hit your bone. We have to get going now. I don’t want to wait around to find out if the gang found which tunnels we went down.”
Dull shouts echoed through the tunnels. I stood on my trembling legs and immediately crumpled back to the ground.
Starla shook her head at me. “Francio, he probably needs to eat something.” She held one strap of her used to be pink backpack and pulled out a cellophane wrapped Swiss Roll. “It’s not going to taste like anything you want to eat, but it’ll hopefully give you the strength that we need you to have.”
I accepted it from her hand. “Thanks.” As soon as I unwrapped it the aroma of chemicals accosted my nostrils. Pulling the cake to my mouth, a mix of regret and thankfulness struggled to gain control. I chewed and swallowed it as fast as I could.
Starla cocked her head at me. “Ok? Can we get going now?" She gestured with her palms up at me, then pointed her hands behind us. "The voices are growing louder.”
Francio pulled on his backpack and then helped me to my feet. He half-pulled me along side of him as we started limping forward. “I’m going to give you some time to regain your strength, but we’re going to have to pick up the pace or we’re not going to make it.”
I nodded my head slowly at him.
Starla rolled her eyes when I looked at her and then she pulled ahead walking at a much faster pace. She called over her shoulder, “Up ahead there’s an escape tunnel that was used for exits when the trains broke down, back when there were trains that ran through these lines. Let’s take that one.” A few minutes later she disappeared into the wall.
As Francio and I walked through the doorway, Starla was crouched wiring up explosives. “I really hope these work. I don’t think we’re going to be able to escape unless we collapse the entrance behind us.” Starla’s voice held a hint of madness.
“Dude. How exactly are we going to not get blown up?” Francio’s voice sounded emotionally distant.
“Dude yourself. I got this. I’ve had it planned out for awhile, just in case we ended up in precisely this predicament.” She pulled a roll of fuse out of her bag and started unrolling it. “I just hope it’s still good. I have enough here to give us five minutes…maybe.”
Francio pulled on her arm and spun her to face him. “Are you freaking kidding me right now? You’re going to kill us. We can escape without blowing up the tunnel and doing the gang’s job for them.”
She jerked her arm away from him and barked his name. “Francio. It’ll be fine. We have enough time. Trust me.” She glared at him for a few minutes before she continued her work.
He approached me and then pulled me along side. “Five minutes isn’t going to be enough time. I’ve seen that look in her eyes before. When she gets like this there is no way to stop her. She is going to blow this tunnel and it’ll kill us all if we don’t get out of here right now.” He repeatedly pointed his finger at the ground in accent to certain words he must have felt need accentuated.
I knew the truth behind his statement and limped as fast as I could. He ran back for Starla’s bag and then ran passed me. Then he turned toward me and gestured for me to hurry up. Several stations later Francio hopped up onto the platform. He threw his and Starla’s bags up, climbed after them, then reached down to help me up. We ran passed a red sign that read, “Harrison”, then up the stairs and into the daylight. A plume of dust and smoke belched after us carrying the boom of the explosion with it. The streets were deadly quiet as we passed by ash coated cars which had been abandoned a year ago. We ran into the nearest broken glass doors of an old Devil Dawgs next to a sign that read, “immy Joh”.
“We’ll rest in here. There’s no way they could have followed us now. How’s your leg?” Francio knelt down next to me as I sat with my back against the disused counter. A single empty bag of Lay’s Original lay on the shelf.
“Do you think she made it?” I spoke through my hands which I was resting my head in.
He walked toward the back of the store, jumped over the counter and scrounged around behind there. “I certainly hope so, but I can’t see how. I was hoping to find something back here, but I didn’t think I would. Unless you count a dead rat. Does that count?” He jumped back over the counter. “We had fifteen minutes to get out of there, there’s no way she made it out in only five. Did you see the cloud of smoke that chased us out of the subway?”
“How could I miss it?”
He sat down next to me and then we sat in near silence as I struggled to bring my breathing under control.
A pair of disheveled scarecrow looking women shambled through the doorway just as my breathing had returned to normal. One was just over five feet and had what looked to have been blonde hair. The other was almost six feet tall and had what I guessed would have been pitch black hair, had it not been for the mud encrusted in it.
The shorter one looked me square in the eye. “Do you have any food we can have? Neither of us have eaten in almost three weeks.”
The taller one cleared her throat. “I haven’t eaten in at least a month.” Her grey eyes looked gaunt and vacant. “How did you two survive the drought and the hoarders killing to keep their water supplies?”
I placed my head back into my hands and stared at the ground.
Francio stood to his feet. “We’ve lost a lot of friends and we literally just escaped. Somehow, whoever was chasing us has guns and enough ammunition to waste on simple scavengers" He pointed his thumbs at himself. "They blew our one friend’s face off, so my other friend sacrificed her life to save us from them. We started out much further south, but haven’t made it very far. We were hoping there was still going to be water in Lake Michigan. Imagine our surprise when we got here to find it a sludge of poisoned mud. I had heard rumors about how badly the environment had gotten, but I didn’t believe it could have wiped out such a huge body of water.”
I looked up as the three of them made a half-circle around me. “We don’t have extra supplies. We’re trying to make it up to Canada. We’ve heard rumors that they might still have drinkable water up there.”
Francio was pulling a few cans of beef stew from his bag. “You two can have four cans of our stew. If you’d like to travel with us, maybe we can make it up north together. We’ve gotten really good at finding stores of food that others had skipped over.” He smiled at them as they practically ripped the cans out of his hands. “Woah, slow down. If you haven’t eaten, you need to take it slowly.”
Each one of them pulled the tabs in unison. They released the top of their cans and devoured the food. They rubbed their fingers along the inside of the cans to get every ounce of gravy out of the can. Franco was already holding out two bottles of water for them. The stickers had long since peeled off and the misshapen plastic of the bottles was scratched.
The shorter one was the first to speak up. “I’m Sylvia.” She pointed toward the taller one. “My partner here is Gloria. We’ve been friends since before the climate was destroyed. We tried to stick around in our home town, but it was a small town and the supplies were devoured within a few days.”
Gloria let out a heavy sigh. “People can be so selfish. There were caravans that descended on our town like locusts and took everything they could find. Thankfully my grandfather had a secret room in his farmhouse. He always told us that the Earth was suffering too much damage and wouldn’t be able to sustain us much longer. He had been saying that since I was at least five. As a result, he had enough supplies to last us the rest of our lives.”
Sylvia finished her bottle, crushed it small, and put it into her pocket. “Yeah, then a month ago some raiders found us and took everything. They literally left us to die.” She shook her head with sadness. “You’re the first compassionate people we’ve run into since then. We’d be happy to join you.”
Gloria patted her her pockets as if she was looking for something. Then she pulled out a Sig Sauer and shot Francio in the forehead. Blood poured out of his skull as the large caliber bullet split his head in two. He collapsed on top of me and stared open mouth at nothing. Gloria’s hands trembled and tears ran down her cheeks. “I’m so sorry. We don’t have a choice.”
As soon as the gunshot finished echoing off of the buildings eight men and two more women wearing military green clothes and military grade packs entered the store. One of them waved his gun at Gloria. “Alright Linda. Let’s not take all day. We don’t need anyone joining us and trust me, he’d thank us for sparing him the misery of starving to death if was alive. Well, if a corpse could do so that is." He chuckled a miserable laugh. "We only have enough supplies for us. Either take care of that last one, or we'll leave your rotting corpse in what’s left of this shack.”
Gloria, who was apparently Linda aimed the gun at me. Her hand shook worse than before and she pulled the trigger. The gun just clicked.
I looked wide eyes over at Syvlia, who probably was also some other name. She pulled her gun out of her pocket and finished what Linda could not.