I shook myself awake, although now that my eyes were open , I wish them closed. My head is throbbing horribly and darkness still surrounds me, something strategically placed before my eyes. A musty sort of smell wafts from the surroundings and I start feeling sweaty and clammy. A drip-drop sound echoes, and as if everything else wasn’t already giving the cliché feeling of being kidnapped, this definitely did. I try to pry my limbs apart but they are bound together at such odd angles THAT IT could easily cause pain if I so much as shuffled.
Only one coherent thought invades my mind. “Help, help.” I wonder why these are the first words I shout; it couldn’t have been more obvious right now that no one will come to my rescue. So, I start yelling. “Anyone? Is anyone there? Whover you are, untie me!” I start getting frantic when suddenly, the cloth blocking my eyesight is yanked away.
I squint at the figure in front of me. A girl, I think and she looks tough as nails. Although she looked about my age, 17, she had more muscle as well as stability than me. I must’ve looked absolutely lanky and awkward than her, even though I was taller. Her eyes pierced me with their hazel colour, assessing my very being, her hair were tied back in a ponytail, her hands clutched the blindfold while attached to her back was a bag overflowing with supplies. Now, this might make me sound like a coward, but honest to god I was scared to even look at her in the eyes properly. My second thought was a bit more happier; finally, another human!
She looks at me with much accumulated anger that if I hadn’t been tied, I would’ve already fled. “Boy,” she says. “Who are you? And what did you that resulted in this?” She gestures to her surroundings. I must’ve looked utterly confused because she placed an object in front of me: a vial with remnants of a bright pink liquid. “What is this?” I must’ve looked even more flabbergasted because she elaborates. “Look, I found you lying somewhere near the shopping complex and I was no short of ecstatic to see someone, a human, but then I found this…this chemical…this serum lying not two feet away from you. Now, you better come up with an explaination or….” She let the threat linger in the air because it was obvious it needed no completion. And I? I remebered I had the ability to speak.
“Look, I’m sorry but I have no idea what you’re talking about. I swear on everything left in this world that I’ve never seen this vial.” My eyes must’ve conveyed the truth better than my words because she nodded and gave a long sigh, almost relieved. And then she extracted a Swiss Knife and I opened my mouth to shout. But she snapped at me before that. “Oh shut up! I’m not going to gut you alive, after all, you might possibly be the only other human alive. I’m cutting off your bonds.” Embarrased, I clamp my mouth shut.
As she starts cutting my bonds, I decide to make conversation. “So, huh, looks like we’re all that’s left?” I can’t look at her as she’s behind me but I’m sure she makes a sour expression at my feeble attempt to make conversation. “Looks like it.” I finally feel my limbs being freed and so, I stretch them to regain feeling. “You now, I still don’t really trust you. I’ll be keeping an eye on you.” She hands me a bottle. I nod. “That’s understandable.” But my mind reels over the fact that she’ll “keep” an eye on me; this means we’ll be stuck together for a while. After nearly three months with no human contact and conversations with mannequins, this idea felt as great as finding good chocolate now-a-days.
We sit down facing each other and this time, I ask. “What is in that vial anyway that got you so worried?” She leaned back, placing her hand on the ground. “I think this might be the reason we’re in this….demise.” I almost laugh; demise is a very frail word for the situation we’re in. “This chemical isnt anything I’ve ever seen and it gives off an omnious vibe.” It’s amazing how even having a conversation with someone who replies (if the mannequins had replied, I would’ve turned and ran) feels something so prized. “Can I… can I see it? I think I might be able to figure something out.” I asked tentitavely . She eyed me precariously and gave me the vial.
I took it in my hand carefully and gave it a whiff. An overwhelming smell of floor polish entered my nostrils, accompanied by other disstinct yet unidentifiable odours. “This contains Nitrobenzene.” I look at her, but she merely gives me a blank expression. “You know, the stuff used in floor polish. In extreme quantities, it becomes a carcinogen and disrupts blood’s ability to move oxygen. But there are other things dissolved in here that I have no idea of.” Before she could reply, I tilt the vial to let a drop fall on my wrist. Almost instantly, a blinding hot searing pain wraps around my arm, the sort of pain that could actually be heard as a distinct screeching sound and all my thoughts consist of -“Ahhhhhhh.” I must’ve spoken the words aloud because with extreme agility, she came, snatched the vial and grabbed my arm while cursing me. “You daft idiot. Why in the world would you do that?” Before the pain could become any more unbearable, it subsides almost as soon as it came.
I take my hand and study it for any damage. None. Even the liquid had seeped inside my skin and vanished. She looks at me cautiously and asks. “Are you…are you normal?” And even though I had numerous pranks in my mind (turning into a zombie at the top), I decide against it. So, I nod. She slumps downwards and gives a mocking laugh. “I didn’t know people as dumb as you even existed.”
“Well, I don’t know if people even exist.” And even though this is not one of my finest jokes, not even a good one, the alleviated tension of finally realising that loneliness won’t be a matter now, seemed to push us headfirst into a bout of laughter.
“Zia, my name.” she says as soon as she recovers and then looks at me expectantly. I realise a second too late. “Oh! Theodore, but please, call me Theo.” She gives a smirk. “Okay, Dore. So, what’s your story?” She was, obviously, talking about the aftermath of the apocalypse but I had an urge to divulge more. “I was an orphan since I was five and grew up there. When I was thirteen, I was taken to this camp….” Before I could finish, she interrupts. “Camp Izlechivat. Literally means healing.” I stare at her, bewildered. “You were there too? How? What?” A defiant look enters her eyes. “Don’t lie to me. If you would’ve been there, I would’ve known.”
“No, I was there. For two years. The name might’ve meant healing but the camp was nothing short of brutal, so I escaped. But why… why did you not escape?” She gives a mirthless laugh. “I was never good at escaping. A prized possession, that’s what they called me. I tried a dozen times but failed. And then, one morning, I woke up and everyone was gone. Everyone. The other children, most of them had already run off or so I thought. And so, I escaped, counting too much on my good luck until I realized the next day that no one was there in the camp. In fact, no one was there.”
I understand where she was coming from. I understood her dread. “I went to my friend’s house, someone I had met at school when I was in the orphanage, after the escape. He welcomed me and his parents couldn’t have been more doting. I slept early the night before and woke up late. And then, as you said, no one was there. But I saw….” I almost choke with emotion. I hate any vulnerability I display, but if she’s the last person, I might as well open up. “I saw their hands and I couldn’t leave them there so I buried them. Since then, it’s just been me.”
This apocalypse business is nasty. For seemingly inexplicable reasons, one day every single human on this planet dissapeared, but their hands remained. It might’ve sounded funny if I had read it somewhere but in reality, it was nothing short of horrific and harrowing. Zia speaks and disrups my train of thought. “Well, if you are alive, then that means that there’s hope for others as well.” She sure knew how to distract and I was grateful for that because we were both acutely aware that if we delved too much, it would only lead to depression. So, a quest, a purpose, was perhaps the most appropriate thing otherwise insanity didn’t seem so far.
“Well, glad that my presence makes a difference.” She smacks my shoulder as if we were long time buddies, not two complete strangers amidst a crisis. A glaze spreads over her eyes instantly. “Do you think that the vial is the reason….?”
I nod. “I most certainly do. Why else would something so powerful just be lying around? Why else would something so monstrous ever be created? I think someone created this and might’ve accidently set it upon the planet.”
“What if it was on puprpose? What if all this destruction was indeed intentional?” A jarring and abysmal thought, that someone would actually, voluntarily, do something so atrocious. And if someone had done this, I couldn’t think of a punishment harsh enough.
I shake my head. “If this was intentional, why would they let anyone,even if it’s just two persons, survive?” This seemed to calm her down. “Anyway, we’ll think of the, if any, conspiracies later. Right now, let’s just try to find if anyone else is alive, any trace of life. One step at a time.” She gave me a full smile this time. “One day at a time.” We clink our bottles and drink the water in silence.
After everything is packed, we head outside and the contrasting picture of the flourishing Earth as opposed to the choking one I distictly recalled from four months ago, stands in front of me. “I almost find it ironic and poetic that during such cicumstances, Earth stands in front of in all its glory.” Zia turns back with a small smile on her face. “It’s what they say Theodore; sometimes, adversity can be a blessing.”
I don’t know where we’re headed, or what is coming next or what grotesque truths we’ll find. But it seems that after a long lone four months, I stand with a smile on my face.